Imports depend on U.S. procedures'

Published : Jan 14, 2011 00:00 IST

Vijay Kumar Saraswat. He is the architect of India's Ballistic Missile Development Programme. - V.V.KRISHNAN

Vijay Kumar Saraswat. He is the architect of India's Ballistic Missile Development Programme. - V.V.KRISHNAN

Interview with V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and Director-General, DRDO.

IN the context of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) being taken off the Entities List in the United States, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas approaching the milestone of Initial Operations Clearance (IOC), and the offset policy (on norms for foreign suppliers) announced by the Defence Ministry, Frontline met V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, in Chennai on December 2. He is also Director-General, DRDO, and is one of India's top missile technologists.

Saraswat has a PhD in Combustion Engineering and started his career in the DRDO in 1972, at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad. He is the architect of India's Ballistic Missile Development Programme (BMDP) under which the DRDO has flight-tested five interceptor missiles so far, with four being successful. Saraswat played an important role in the development of several critical missile technologies that were denied to India under the Missile Technology Control Regime. He steered the design, development, production of India's surface-to-surface missile Prithvi as well as its induction into the defence forces.

Excerpts from the interview:

The United States is to take DRDO off its Entities List in the wake of President Barack Obama's visit to India in November. What are the implications of this?

The DRDO being taken off the Entities List means that we will now go to a list called the Approved List. What this means is that for all dual-use items, we have to apply for licence, and for non-dual use items, we can buy them without licence, based on the policy of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). That is the main thing.

Now what is dual-use? As far as defence is concerned, anything that you use for defence is dual-use. That is where the implementation of the relaxed procedures will make an impact. If the implementation is based on the generic definition of dual-use item, then the gain [from India being taken off the Entities List] will not be significant. If the implementation is based on an item and its ultimate use as described by the importing laboratory, and a technical view is taken on that, only then will the relaxation make a real impact.

Otherwise, everything can again be brought back on the denied list because it is a dual-use item. This is the main issue that will affect tomorrow's programmes, and it will have an impact on the development of technology in our country.

You are aware that because of export-control regimes in the past there have been delays in development activities in India. Whatever was denied had to be developed ab initio in the country, whether they were missiles, tanks, torpedoes, gas turbine engines. The materials, the sensors, the bearings and computers were denied. As a result, our scientists, industries and academic institutions had to work together to build them. The gain from this denial is that many of these technologies, which we had otherwise decided not to develop, were developed. We, therefore, increased our self-reliance in these areas. But time and cost factors were there. It has cut both ways.

We will now have to see whether the implementation norms identified in the new U.S. policy are practised in letter and spirit. Only time will answer this and a lot of case studies will have to be done on what is the actual gain from this relaxed regime.

It is a good framework that the U.S. has provided. But its impact on the growth of technologies in India will be seen only when it is practically implemented.

What has been the effect of the offset policy announced by the Defence Ministry? The policy says that if the foreign exchange component in any global defence purchase by India is more than Rs.300 crore, then the foreign company should source a minimum of 30 per cent of the components from India. Have the foreign companies from whom we have contracted to buy hardware decided to allow the Indian companies to produce 30 per cent of the subsystems and components in India?

The Offset Arrangement has laid down certain principles. We have many large equipment, which are being procured [from abroad]. It is being suggested that, as part of the offset, there should be acquisition of some critical technologies because if you do an offset only for the manufacture of a component or for doing consultancy, it is not good. An offset should not also be considered the equivalent of a joint venture. If a foreign company were to tie up with a local company for a joint venture [it will not be beneficial]. The present [offset] policy does not have these things.

What we have to bring in the new policy is acquiring technology tie-ups as part of the offset. This means we should get some technologies that are important for the nation. This should be done selectively so that we get the best in terms of technology. For, India is going to be involved in the huge imports of many systems, which are required for defence.

We are going to acquire aircraft, submarines and tanks. So many things are going to be imported. So offset should be used carefully and there should be involvement of Indian industry, the DRDO and defence production in a big way for selecting the offset. Only then we will be able to make use of the offset for industrial growth in the country.

The Rama Rao Committee has recommended the setting up of the defence technology commission. We have the Atomic Energy Commission and the Space Commission. At what stage is the setting up of the defence technology commission?

It is under draft now. It will be sent to the government for approval.

What will be the benefits that will accrue from this commission?

Any commission in a specific area is basically to give focus to the main objective of achieving a high level of self-reliance in that area, in this case the defence technology. That is the objective with which the Rama Rao Committee has recommended that a defence technology commission be set up. To achieve this objective, the commission should be empowered with the selection of technology, infrastructure and the research areas, and the guiding of various laboratories, research institutes and industries to create a strong network for developing defence technologies, in which the DRDO should have a major share.

Another objective of the commission is to accelerate the process of self-reliance. This is the main purpose. Ultimately, how the government approves it is to be seen. Right now, this is our thinking. There may be changes and modifications. It is in draft form now.

You hold several posts Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, DRDO Director-General and Secretary, Research and Development, DRDO. You are also in charge of the Light Combat Aircraft project Tejas, among others. What is the status of Tejas?

The Initial Operations Clearance (IOC) is in process. Right now, a big achievement is weapons delivery by Tejas. At trials in Goa, it fired an R-73 missile. We are confident that the goals we set with respect to completing the total number of flights, documentation, the release of weapons, communication, demonstration to the user and certification of essential subsystems should be over by the end of December.

Will you get the IOC next year?

All this is part of the IOC. After the IOC, production will start. The main objective of the IOC is to start production because the user has already placed an order for 20 aircraft. The HAL [Hindustan Aeronautics Limited] has set up the production infrastructure in Bangalore and it can start production as per the requirements of the user. And we can start working on the Final Operations Clearance (FOC). We have a programme for completing the FOC.

What is FOC?

You go for the FOC when you are in a position to do the complete certification. The integration of all weapons do not take place at the same time. More weapons will be added later. The integration of new weapons, new sensors and all that will be treated as part of the FOC.

The Army has placed orders for 124 Arjun Mark-I main battle tanks and another 124 Arjun Mark-II tanks. What progress has the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment, situated at Avadi, made on these orders?

(Saraswat suggests that P. Sivakumar, Director, CVRDE, who is present give the reply.)

Sivakumar: The production of the 124 Arjun Mark-I tanks will be completed at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF), Avadi, by March 2011. For the production of the 124 Mark-II tanks, the HVF has been instructed to start the procurement of components. The process has already started. The 90 tanks produced so far are available with the 43rd and 75th Armoured Regiments. A programme called Exercise with Troops, using these tanks, got under way from November 22 at Jaisalmer [Rajasthan]. The Army will see how effectively they can use these tanks in the exercise. We are hoping that the performance of Arjun will yield more orders.

Saraswat: In terms of its performance, Arjun is one of the best tanks today. In terms of firepower, accuracy, mobility and the protection system we have provided, it matches the best in the world. But the threat profile is changing. An ammunition may be developed which can be stronger and can penetrate a thicker armour. So our effort now is to work on the next generation of Arjun tanks, which can survive offence and defence against futuristic threats in terms of penetration, fire-power, firing a missile, and so on. Today, we have a gun mounted on the Arjun. Tomorrow, we may have a missile mounted on it. Today, we have a passive protection system. Tomorrow, we will have an active protection system. Today, it has so much of speed. Tomorrow, it may be more mobile. My team in the CVRDE will be developing the Future MBT with a host of new technologies. That is our ambition.

Sivakumar: We will certainly keep doing product improvement in the present systems.

Saraswat: Today, we have Arjun Mark-I. Tomorrow, we will have Arjun Mark-II, which will be more capable. Then we will have Future Arjun, which will be contemporary to the 2015 to 2025 period.

The DRDO is working on cyber security

This is an area that is gaining more and more importance. Today, the entire operation in our armed forces is network centric. In a network centric situation with a large number of sensors, weapons and groups of people working in a network mode, the main layer of networking is communication. If you are going to use your own dedicated communication, you are slightly safe. If you are using the Internet for gathering your resources to fight a war, you are vulnerable.

There are many agencies which are out to create problems by denying the network centricity. So we are building research areas on how to provide solutions to the armed forces on cyber security; how to build a robust communication system; how to build software that will not have any weakness; how to make servers, switches and routers that will have no parallel parts which can be triggered by an outside agency. We have identified our teams which will do research on cyber security. We will involve the industry because India has the advantage of a good information technology industry.

M. Natarajan, former Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, told me that young scientists of DRDO have developed highly advanced software for its interceptor missiles.

That [advanced software] is what we use for network centric activity. This has to be protected against software attacks from outside. We will build this software. Fortunately, our Ballistic Missile Development Programme has a dedicated network, which is not connected to the Internet. But in many areas, we are connected to the Internet. We exchange a lot of data.... The DRDO has taken the initiative to see that cyber security meets our defence requirements.

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