Thursday, June 13, 2024

Catalysing Defence R&D In Industry & Academia – DRDO Releases 75 Technology Priority Areas For Defence R&D

Dr. N Ranjana

Collaborative development across various interrelated organisations and elements in the ecosystem is an essential prerequisite towards improving national technology development capabilities. This will contribute to enhancing defence research and development (R&D), technology development and converting technological advances rapidly into transformational warfighting capabilities.

The government’s resolve to involve all hands to work was announced during the 2022 budget, in which the government declared that defence R&D will be opened up for industry, startups and academia. Multiple efforts are being taken to make this happen and convert the technology development ecosystem into a self-driving culture. 

To walk this path, charting technology directions for various domains is essential. Scientists working in DRDO labs across the country have collated their immediate and near-future tasks to bring out these directions. These tasks are categorised systematically into areas and categories of domains of engineering and applications. These efforts culminated in the release of 75 technology priority areas for all stakeholders during the Anusandhan Chintan Shivir held on 23 June 2023. The event was attended by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and other senior officers of the Indian Armed Forces, the Director of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-Delhi) and many senior academicians from across the country and industry leaders of many large scale, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and startups.

The 75 technology priority areas consist of a bouquet of futuristic, emergent and present technological areas aligned to the requirement of the armed forces. The list of 75 priority technology areas, as identified by DRDO, is further divided into 403 technological categories, which further spread out to 1,295 technological development tasks. All these tasks and the laboratories working on these areas are listed at: https://drdo.gov.in/drdo-technology-foresight.

The release of 75 priority areas and enlisted tasks is an attempt to bridge the near-term, mid-term and long-term technology within the ecosystem. DRDO envisages a defence ecosystem which is robust and fully Atmanirbhar in all the domains, from space to cyber, from land to sea and air. This extensive listing offers a great multitude of opportunities for technology development. DRDO seeks cooperation and participation from all stakeholders in the defence ecosystem to exploit this opportunity.

The existing schemes of collaboration with industry and academia will be applicable to work on these areas with various DRDO labs. These include development contracts in Buit-to-Print (BtP) mode, Transfer of Technology (ToT) to industry for military and dual-use technology production, Development cum Production Partner (DcPP)/Production Agency (PA), Technology Development Fund (TDF) and Joint Ventures (JVs). Multiple encouraging policies have been launched to encourage industry, like facilitation for exports, offering test facilities and free patent access to DRDO patents to the Indian industry.

On the academic collaboration side, DRDO has established 15 DRDO Industry Academia Centres of Excellence (DIA-CoEs) in Indian universities and academic institutes of repute, with the objective of creating a world-class research centre developing cutting-edge technologies. These centres are established to harness and synergise the combined strength of academia, student community, research fellows, niche technology industries and DRDO scientists to provide impetus to research and innovations. A large pool (~1000) of researchers are currently engaged in advanced research projects across India.

Research sponsored in academic institutions under extramural research (ER) focuses on research on the areas where a lack of understanding is recognised as an obstacle to scientific or technological progress in the broad topic area of relevance to military R&D.

The TDF scheme of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) executed by the DRDO encourages the participation of industries, especially MSMEs and startups, with a project cost of up to 50 Crore, where up to 90% of the project cost is being funded by DRDO as grant-in-aid. The focus area under TDF is where the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is up gradation from TRL 0.5 to TRL 7.

Unveiling of the 75 priority technology areas shall hopefully provide that extra impetus to the defence R&D and lead us to Atmanirbharta with the involvement of all the stakeholders from industry and academia.

Collaborative Defence R&D is the need of the hour to bring innovations and advancements in critical defence technologies. The release of technology priority areas and the detailing of categories and tasks is an attempt to bring all technology development stakeholders together towards realising these objectives.

While these initiatives are being driven by the government, the importance of doing things well and timely is the baseline. The technology development ecosystem being envisaged requires the commitment and ownership by all stakeholders towards the adoption of technologies.

Dr. N Ranjana has more than three decades of experience with defence R&D in various spheres and specturms. A graduate in Physics from Delhi University and Post Graduate in Computer Science from DAVV Indore. She holds a Doctorate in Computer Science in the field of Formal Verification of Mission Critical Software. She has worked in Naval and Missile development areas for embedded software. She has held many responsible positions at DRDO Headquarters. Presently, she is heading the corporate Directorate of Systems and Technology Analysis (DSTA) from its inception and working on identifying the new (futuristic) technologies for various defence and related applications using simulation and analysis techniques.


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