Nerve centre

Print edition : December 18, 2009

The reconaissance vehicle, which is designed to detect and demarcate areas affected by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and transmit data to the control centre.-PHOTOGRAPHS: DRDO

IT has been a silent march for five decades by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which shuns the limelight and prefers to let its work do the talking. Its mission: self-reliance in defence technologies. In the past 10 years alone, DRDO-developed systems have won production orders worth around Rs.40,000 crore. They cover a wide range: battle tanks, missiles, radars, electronic warfare systems, sonars, mini-submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles, explosives, propellants, armaments, bridge-laying tanks, heavy-duty parachutes, and defence technologies against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare.

Other DRDO-developed products include strategically important material such as Kanchan armour used in the main battle tank Arjun, steel for building weapon-platforms on ships, titanium sponge which has medical applications, and composites for use in the nose-cone of missiles.

The DRDOs nine life sciences laboratories have developed portable bags for treatment of high-altitude pulmonary oedema, escape suits for submariners, protective clothing for soldiers posted in Siachen and integrated life-support systems, including helmets, flying overalls and anti-G suits for Indian Air Force pilots. They have also developed diagnostic kits for dengue, malaria, typhoid and leptospirosis. The Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) in Leh has bred a hybrid broiler sheep for round-the-year availability of fresh meat at high altitudes for soldiers.

The other laboratories are Defence Bio-engineering and Electro-Medical Laboratory (DEBEL), Bangalore; Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research (DIBER), Haldwani, Uttarakhand; Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), Mysore; Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), Delhi; Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), Delhi; Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE), Gwalior; Defence Research Laboratory (DRL), Tezpur, Assam; and Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), Delhi.

The integrated field shelter, which can accommodate up to 30 people for four days in the event of an NBC attack.-

The DRDO considers the Army, the Navy and the Air Force as partners in development and not merely users, said W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller, R&D (Life Sciences and Human Resources), DRDO.

The DRDO began its journey on January 1, 1958, as an organisation to advise the armed forces on its needs. Today, it is a generator, integrator and deliverer of systems and also provides spin-off technologies to society at large. The DRDO plays a vital role in providing cutting-edge technologies to the services, in the development of industries, and in academic growth as well, said Selvamurthy.

Its network of 52 laboratories and centres makes the DRDO one of the finest R&D organisations in the world. In the coming years, said Selvamurthy, the DRDOs thrust would be to involve the private sector in R&D work, such as the preparation of engineering drawings, the integration of defence systems, testing and evaluation, and in the manufacturing of products. In the 11th Plan (2007-2012), we will involve small and medium industries in R&D activities, he said.

The DRDO involves academic institutions, too, in R&D by providing them extramural projects. It has research boards in the areas of aeronautics, naval technology, armaments and life sciences, which fund basic research in academic institutions. Centres of excellence set up by it in Bharathiar University, Coimbatore, the University of Hyderabad, and the University of Calcutta focus on life sciences, high energy materials and microwaves and matter respectively.

In the area of NBC defence technologies, the DRDO has helped India achieve a high level of self-reliance. Of the 60 products it has developed, about 45 are in use in the services. These fall into five categories: systems for early detection, equipment for personal protection, systems for collective protection, equipment for decontamination, and products for medical management. Said Selvamurthy: In the past five years, we have developed [NBC defence] systems and products worth more than Rs.500 crore, which have been inducted into the services.

A suit developed for protection against NBC agents.-

A radar to detect attacks by NBC material is under development. This is a futuristic development for the 11th and 12th Plans, Selvamurthy said. A Rs.300-crore project to develop new NBC defence equipment and products, where small and medium industries will be stake-holders in production, is on the anvil.DRDO-developed systems and sensors that monitor the environment can warn of a nuclear weapon strike. They include pocket dosimeters and portable dose rate metres to measure gamma radiation; radiac metre personnel locket (RPL) dosimeter to measure the gamma and neutron radiation received by a soldier in nuclear warfare; an integrated control panel to provide early warnings against NBC threats; and a Roentgenometer with a flash sensor that will detect the flash of light that accompanies the explosion of a nuclear weapon.

In the event of the use of chemical weapons, we have developed a portable gas chromotograph which can detect 20 chemicals at a time, said Selvamurthy. These chemical warfare agents include nerve agents such as Suman, Serin and Tabun, blister-causing agents and cyanide. The DRDO has developed a kit to detect residual vapour of chemical agents and nerve agents and a kit to find out whether water sources have been poisoned by cyanide or nerve agents.

We have developed a three-coloured paper to find out whether a chemical agent has been used. Just by noticing the change in the colour of the paper, a jawan will know whether a chemical agent has been used and wear protective clothing, the Chief Controller said.

W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller, R&D (Life Sciences and Human Resources), DRDO.-V.V. KRISHNAN

The DRDO has also fabricated a protective clothing ensemble in the event of the use of NBC warfare agents. It includes a canister with a respiratory mask to prevent the inhalation of radiation or chemical or biological warfare agent particles. The canister and mask are powerful enough to filter agents up to 0.13 microns. For collective protection against NBC agents, there are integrated field shelters that can be assembled underground. Each unit can accommodate 30 individuals and has essential supplies that can last four days. The armed forces have bought them in large numbers. An interesting product is the sturdy reconnaissance vehicle that can detect NBC-contaminated areas and transmit data to control centres. There is also a mobile nuclear field laboratory to measure radioactivity in the environment. Technologies, solutions and apparatus have rolled out of the DRDO laboratories for decontaminating personnel, terrain, vehicles, aircraft and equipment in the event of an NBC attack. A decontamination system mounted on a Tatra vehicle can clean affected areas. There are medical management products, too, including an auto-jet injector. Soldiers exposed to nerve agents can inject themselves with twin antidotes atrophine sulphate and PAM (pralidoxime chloride).

The Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences has devised 18 ration-scales to meet the nutritional and energy requirements of personnel operating in various weather conditions. It has also developed survival rations and nutrition scales for Sainik school pupils.

The DFRL has developed a wide range of ready-to-eat food products that can be consumed after a little warming. They include flavoured chappattis, sooji halwa, vegetable pulav, potato peas curry, aloo paratha, composite pack rations for mountaineers and trekkers, instant basmati rice and rajma curry, and tender coconut water (named Coco Jal).

If DIHAR at Leh has devised trench technologies for cultivating vegetables during extreme winters at high altitudes, the DIBER at Haldwani has designed greenhouses for cultivating vegetables round the year in snow-bound areas. Vegetables cultivated include tomato, cucumber, cabbage and capsicum. While the Army currently uses the DRDOs three-stage acclimatisation procedure for soldiers posted in high altitude areas, the DRDO is now working on rapid induction. Said Selvamurthy: We have taken it up as a major programme in the 11th Plan.

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