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Versatile, world class

Published : Oct 05, 2012 00:00 IST

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Agni-V, the ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 km, being uploaded on to the road mobile launcher at Wheeler Island on April 12, a day before it was launched.-

Agni-V, the ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 km, being uploaded on to the road mobile launcher at Wheeler Island on April 12, a day before it was launched.-

The DRDO has achieved a high degree of self-reliance in its quest to develop new products. It is the technology hub for comprehensive national security.

The Defence Research and Development Organisations (DRDO) missile programme, especially the successful maiden launch of Agni-V in April, has given it high visibility but it does not tell the full story of the organisations versatility.

The DRDO was set up on January 1, 1958, with just 10 laboratories. Today the organisation has 50 laboratories across the country doing cutting-edge research in a number of fields. Its engineers and technicians work in diverse disciplines such as combat vehicles; combat engineering; ammunition; armaments; missiles; naval systems; aeronautics; radars; life sciences; avalanche prediction; nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare; high-altitude agriculture; electronic warfare; materials; camouflage; low-intensity conflict; advanced computing; and artificial intelligence and robotics.

The range of products that the laboratories have developed is staggering: a variety of missiles; the Main Battle Tank Arjun Mark-I; radars; the nuclear-powered submarine Arihant; the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas; the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW & C) System; torpedoes; robots; carbon nanotubes; unmanned aerial vehicles; autonomous underwater vehicles; bridge-laying tanks; amphibious floating bridges; the multi-barrel rocket-launcher Pinaka; rifles; parachutes; aerostats; bullet-proof jackets; laser guns; advanced software for interceptor missile missions; instruments to detect and measure radiation; products to combat NBC warfare agents; a water decontamination kit in case of an NBC fallout; bio-toilets; heat-seeking gloves and socks; ready-to-eat food for soldiers posted in Siachen; Ayurvedic cream to combat frostbite and leukoderma; and medical kits to detect swine flu, typhoid and chikungunya. The DRDO has developed escape suits for submarine crew, insecticidal spray to protect carpets, woollen textiles, leather jackets and fur products, and devised yoga packages for troops posted in Leh or Siachen.

V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and DRDO Director General, told Frontline: Today, in the area of missiles, radars, electronic warfare systems, naval systems and the technologies required for the man behind the machine, the DRDO has made the country completely independent of the control regimes. The organisation had achieved a high degree of self-reliance in its quest to develop new technologies and products to meet the requirements of the armed forces, he said. Today, largely because of the DRDOs extensive R&D activities, the contribution to defence acquisition from indigenous sources has reached 50 per cent.

W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller (Life Sciences and International Relations), DRDO, described the organisation as a technology hub for comprehensive national security. According to him, the value of production orders for the systems developed by the DRDO stood at Rs.1.48 lakh crore in the past 10 years. The Army has bought 13 lakh INSAS (Indian Small Arms Systems) rifles developed by the DRDO. About 800 industries, public sector giants and medium and small industries in the private sector worked in tandem with the DRDO to manufacture hundreds of products. Today, we have developed a triad[nuclear weapons that can be delivered from] land, air and water. This is a very major contribution from the DRDO, Selvamurthy said.

A commemorative volume titled Five Decades of DRDO, Silent March brought out in 2008, traces the genesis of the DRDO to the Gun & Shell Factory set up by the East India Company at Cassipore (in Kolkata) in 1801. The British established about half a dozen ordnance factories in the country until the end of the First World War. The number increased to 16 by the end of the Second World War. The war demonstrated how the awesome power of science could be used to change its outcome.

After Independence, the Government of India was keen that the country develop expertise in defence-related science and technology. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited his friend, the Nobel laureate P.M.S. Blackett, then a professor in the University of Manchester, to study Indias defence requirements and submit a report on how scientific problems relating to defence could be tackled.

A chapter in the volume, titled The Genesis and Growth, says: Professor Blackett submitted his report in September 1948, underlining the role of science in planning for Indias defence programmes. Based on the report of Professor Blackett, the Defence Science Organisation was set up in 1948, having a role to advise and assist the armed forces on scientific problems as well as to undertake research in areas related to defence. Professor D.S. Kothari, an eminent scientist, was appointed the first Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence. During the decade 1948-1957, the scientific focus of the organisation was in the areas of operations research, explosives, military physiology, applied psychology, electronics, food and nutrition, applied chemistry, clothing, ballistics, weapon evaluation techniques and general stores. In addition, a pioneering study on the effects of nuclear explosion was undertaken at the instance of the then Prime Minister

The DRDO was formed by merging the units of the Defence Science Organisation and the Technical Development Establishments of the three services. Kothari was appointed Head of the DRDO. The organisation was headquartered at Metcalfe House in New Delhi. Initially, it was more of an inspection agency and its role was to advise the services what to buy and what not to buy.

Ravi Gupta, Director, Public Interface, DRDO, said: In 1958, the DRDO had no industrial or R&D support. There was no infrastructure to do research in high-technology areas. Even equipment to test devices and measure temperatures had to be imported. The infrastructure to transform technology into products was lacking. So the first two decades and a half were, by and large, an era of creating infrastructure, doing R&D, understanding advanced defence technologies and, at the same time, building some vendors to transform the technology into products, Gupta said. Yet, between 1958 and 1968, several products such as small and medium weapons systems, explosives, communication systems and cipher machines were developed. K. Sekhar, who retired recently as Chief Controller (Low Intensity Conflict and Implementation), DRDO, recalled the organisations forays from 1962 into newer areas such as missiles, radars and electronic warfare. In the area of missiles, we started with anti-tank missile and the work went on for seven to eight years. In the 1970s, indigenisation of several technologies began.

Selvamurthy said the organisation did a lot of reverse engineering to understand the complexities of battle tanks, missiles and radars. Achievements during this period included development of field guns, sonar systems, aeronautical systems, and radar and communication systems.

The first half of the 1980s saw the coming together of the formidable quartet Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, R. Venkataraman as Defence Minister, V.S. Arunachalam as Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as the Director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), a missile complex in Hyderabad. They shared a vision to make India self-reliant in defence technologies. They had faith in the DRDO scientists and engineers capability to deliver new technologies and products. Under their leadership, the DRDO leapfrogged into major programmes such as the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), the LCA Tejas, the MBT Arjun and the gas-turbine engine, he said. The late 1980s saw the maturing of indigenous technologies and their transformation into major systems such as missiles, radars, underwater weapons, electronic warfare systems fitted into IAF aircraft, and the prototype LCA.

According to Five Decades of DRDO, [during the decade 1980-1990], the contributions of the DRDO towards self-reliance in defence systems became evident with the development of complex indigenous technologies such as flight simulators for Ajeet and Kiran aircraft, air-launched missile target and various types of ammunition, the low-level surveillance radar Indra, electronic warfare systems and sonars. During this decade, a number of new and ambitious major programmes on weapon and combat systems were undertaken. The next decade [1990-2000] witnessed significant progress on these major projects which culminated in the development of a number of systems, including the MBT Arjun; Prithvi and Agni missiles; the pilotless target aircraft (PTA) Lakshya; the combat-improved T-72 tank Ajeya; the bridge-laying tank built on T-72; the surface-to-air missile system Akash; the light-weight torpedo; ground, ship and air-borne electronic warfare systems; artillery combat, command and control systems; the INSAS rifle; light machine gun and ammunition; the super-computer PACE++; and naval mines.

From 2000 to 2010, the DRDO developed a large number of technologies and products, and most of them were world class. This was achieved against the backdrop of all kinds of roadblocks which included technology-denial regimes, said Ravi Gupta. Today India has an assortment of missilestactical and strategicwith various ranges and armed with conventional and nuclear warheads. These are Agni-I, II, III, IV and V; the Prithvi variants; Akash; Nag; Shourya; and the underwater-launched missile that will be integrated into submarine Arihant. The development of these missiles signifies that India has mastered propulsion, navigation and guidance, integration, re-entry technology, and production of materials such as carbon-carbon composites that go into the making of the missiles. Bharat Dynamics Limited, a public sector undertaking, produces them. Agni-I, Agni-II and Agni-III have been inducted into the Army. Agni-IV and Agni-V are in demonstration mode. The Army and the IAF have placed orders for the Akash air defence system, valued at Rs.23,000 crore. We have built BrahMos, the only supersonic cruise missile in the world, said Selvamurthy.

Initial operations clearance has been given to Tejas, which means its production can begin at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Tejas is a single-seater contemporary aircraft with digital cockpit, multi-mode radar, fly-by-wire flight control systems and advanced avionics and composite materials for structures. The DRDO has also developed the LCAs naval version and a two-seater trainer version.

An important development is that Indias efforts to build its own AEW & C system crossed a milestone when a fully modified Embraer-145 aircraft, on which the system will be integrated, arrived in Bangalore from Sao Paolo, Brazil, on August 22. The aircraft, with the indigenous Active Electronic Scanning Array (AESA) radar, will be an eye in the sky. The radar can look 240 {+0} within a short time and has a range of 350 kilometres. It can track more than 500 friendly and hostile targets in the air and on the ground simultaneously. The Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS), and the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), and the DRDO laboratories situated in Bangalore have jointly developed the AESA radar. The radar is the processor part of the Active Antenna Array Unit (AAAU) made by the CABS ( Frontline, March 9, 2012).

Our AESA radar is contemporaneous with the best in the world, Saraswat said. The arrival of the Embraer marks the beginning of the integration phase of the AEW & C system on the aircraft, he added.

Selvamurthy said: By December this year, the aircraft will fly with the radar and antenna developed by the DRDO laboratories. India has contracted to buy two more Embraer aircraft that will be integrated with AEW & C system. The Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), Agra, has developed aerostats, which can fly up to a height of 700 metres to one kilometre. It had already flown an aerostat several times over Agra to mount a surveillance over the city and intercept a variety of communications.

Arjun battle tank

A star among the DRDO products is Arjun, developed by the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) at Avadi in Chennai. The Army had ordered 124 Arjun Mark-I battle tanks; 118 tanks were delivered to it. The Army is now conducting field trials of Arjun-Mark II. It has placed orders for 124 Arjun Mark-II tanks, too. P. Sivakumar, Director, CVRDE, said: We effected 56 improvements in Arjun Mark-II. The major upgrades are in its missile-firing capability against long-range targets, explosive reactive armour, and an advanced air-defence gun to shoot down helicopters.

Various DRDO laboratories have developed 60 products for early detection, collective protection, decontamination and medical management if NBC warfare agents were to be unleashed. They include wrist dosimeters to measure gamma and neutron radiation, permeable suit with masks for protection against toxic vapours, and respirators to be used against toxic gases, smoke, radioactive dust and bacteria.The DRDO has forged ahead in international cooperation. We are working with Russia in a big way and with Kyrgyzstan, Israel, France, the United Kingdom and Germany in collaborative R&D, Selvamurthy said.

Ravi Gupta said: The DRDO stands committed to providing the armed forces with world-class technologies, weapon systems and equipment to keep them fighting fit under all circumstances.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Oct 05, 2012.)

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