Powered by young scientists

Print edition : January 11, 2013

Daksh, a battery-operated robot, whose primary role is to locate, handle and defuse improvised explosive devices.-

The main strengths of Indias leading defence research organisation are its young scientists and their low attrition rate.

THE top brass of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is proud of the organisations two strengths: a young workforce and its low attrition rate. When the DRDOs first interceptor mission in 2006 became a big success and celebrations broke out in the Mission Control Centre on Wheeler Island, off the Odisha coast, what stood out was the young team of scientistsmen and womenwho were behind the complex mission. They were all in their late 20s or early 30s.

M. Natarajan, then Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, was quick to give credit to these young people and the advanced software they had prepared for the interceptor to bring down in mid-air a ballistic missile simulating the trajectory of a missile coming from an enemy country. It is not ordinary BPO [business process outsourcing] software. It is advanced software that was behind the missions success, he said. Natarajan explained why the interceptor mission required highly advanced software: an interceptor missile flying at several Mach speed and destroying an incoming ballistic missile is akin to a bullet hitting another bullet.

Whichever be the DRDO laboratoryfrom among the 52 across the country, from Leh in Ladakh to Kochi in Keralathe most striking aspect is the cheerful young team of scientists and engineers. At 48, G. Satheesh Reddy, Associate Director, Research Centre, Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad, became the youngest Outstanding Scientist in any department in India. He is also the Director, Inertial Systems, in the RCI, which is one of the three missile laboratories of the DRDO situated in Hyderabad. Satheesh Reddy and his team developed the advanced navigation system that has contributed to the successful flights of five variants of the Agni missilesI, II, III, IV and Vand the interceptors.

This navigation system has found applications in submarines, ships, helicopters and the light combat aircraft Tejas.

At the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), RCIs neighbour, it is again a young team that is working on several projects: Sunita Devi Jena in the Ramjet Test Facility team; or P. Satya Prakash, A. Raju and A. Rolex Ranjit developing the Scramjet engine that will power the DRDOs Hypersonic Test Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV).

The biggest strength of the DRDO is the young scientists, said Manas K. Mandal, Director, Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), a DRDO facility situated in New Delhi. They are basic to our strength. It is a bottom-driven leadership.

Psychological side

V. Bhujanga Rao, Chief Controller (Human Resources), DRDO, is happy that the attrition rate among the scientists working in the 52 laboratories is low. Out of 7,000 scientists, only six to eight leave the DRDO a month. Which means about 72 a year. It works out to 0.1 per cent of the scientists strength. Basically, they leave for personal reasons. Besides the scientists, 23,000 technical, administrative and allied staff are employed in the DRDO laboratories, Bhujanga Rao said.

When other DRDO laboratories develop a wide range of products and technologies to empower Indias armed forces, the DIPR has a different mission. Its psychologists and scientists prepare soldiers to face the extremely cold conditions in Siachen and the cramped atmosphere in submarines; devise tests for the selection of officers for the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the paramilitary forces; advise the Army on how to reduce the fratricide and suicide rates among its soldiers; and test the aptitude of Other Ranks to be inducted into several hundreds of trades in the Services, among others. In other words, the DIPR is a centre of importance in military psychology and it does research in personnel selection, placement and trade allocation.

We are now developing a new selection process for officers of the armed forces, said Mandal. It is called the De Novo selection system. By introducing a few changes, the DIPR is securing the strengths of the existing selection system to make the new selection process more candidate-friendly. The present selection process requires five days plus two additional days for the candidates to reach the selection venue and return to their towns. In the new system, the process will be reduced to three days.

The selection process had to change because the nature of warfare has changed, the DIPR Director said. We must get officers who have the capability to face the challenges of tomorrow. Human skills may not be able to cope with the speed with which technology is changing now. This gap cannot be bridged by training alone. You must raise the base-line. Personality orientation needs to be redefined. That is the major issue, Mandal said.

The DIPR will develop a prototype selection process by 2013, which it has been working on over the last three years. The prototype will run parallel to the existing system for the next two years. When the DIPR is satisfied with the new system, it will do a follow-up study, based on which the DIPR and the Services Headquarters will decide on inducting the new selection procedure.

The new process is not just a computerised test, said Mandal. It will help the selectors understand the covert, overt and social behaviour of the candidate appearing for the test.

The assessment of the candidate will be intensive during the selection process and will provide a comprehensive profile of the candidate.

Our basic task is to provide good raw material [candidates with officer-like qualities] to the National Defence Academy, the Indian Military Academy and the Officers Training Academy, where they are converted into finished products, he added.

Another project that the DIPR is engaged in is to find ways to reduce soldiers stress. The Defence Ministry was keen that the DIPR should go into the sources of the soldiers stress. The DIPR identified three sourcespersonal, social and occupational reasons which could be called the root, the base and the trigger. All forms of stress can be managed through certain mechanisms and the DIPR had published manuals that can be consulted when trouble arose, the Director said. Besides, junior commissioned officers (JCOs) can be trained to counsel their men. DIPR psychologists visited field formations and base stations of the Services to help soldiers develop an effective coping style when they faced a conflict between which should come firstfamily, career or duty. If there is a conflict among family, duty and career, we tell them how to prioritise them and develop an effective coping style, Mandal said.

On the ill-treatment of jawans by Army officers which led to frequent mutinies by Other Ranks, including the incident at Nyoma in Ladakh in May in which Army officers and jawans clashed violently that left the units commanding officer, two majors and two soldiers seriously injured ( Frontline, September 21), Mandal said: I have not done any case study because we do studies at the systemic level and not at the episodic level. Since we are a civilian organisation, we study only the process of any incident but not any particular episode. Based on one incident, it is better not to generalise because I have to secure the strengths [of the Army] and I have to refrain from over-generalising. If there are incidents, they must be stopped. He refuted the argument that officers refusal to grant leave of absence to jawans led to rebellions. Leave was not an issue because 90 per cent of the requests for leave of absence were granted, he claimed.

Incidents of fratricide among soldiers, which was very high in 2006 with 11 incidents, have come down to one incident now, he said. Suicides among soldiers ( Frontline, September 21) had also come down and it hovered around 100 a year (that is one every third day), Mandal said. Against the national average of 11.8 per lakh, it is nine per lakh in the Army.

A good job we have done is the trade allocation system to Other Ranks, said Soumi Awasthy, scientist, DIPR. The Army has hundreds of trades, covering a wide range, and they are allotted to soldiers. These trades include gunners for battle tanks, helicopters and ships; drivers for battle tanks, trucks and cars; nursing assistants; welders; plumbers; electricians; cooks; and so on. The DIPR has developed a fully computerised system for job allocation. These trades are allotted to soldiers after they join the Army. Every trade is a job, said Soumi Awasthy. Matching the job profile with the persons ability is important. The Army has introduced this system and it has given good results.

Incentives and awards

From a scientist who has won several awards and led the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory (NSTL), a DRDO facility at Visakhapatnam, Bhujanga Rao has taken to the job of Chief Controller (Human) Resources, DRDO, with ease. He is in charge of the careers of 7,000 scientists and 23,000 technical, administrative and allied staff. He called the DRDO one of the three premier research departmentsthe Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Space (DoS) being the other two. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) comes under the DoS.

Of the three, the DRDO has the largest technical manpower and its budget is twice that of the DAE and twice that of ISRO, said Bhujanga Rao. He is proud of the diverse disciplines in which the DRDO laboratories are engaged in research and development. These disciplines include mechanical engineering, materials, life sciences, naval architecture, aeronautics, combat engineering, missiles, electronics and armaments.

The system of recruitment and training in the DRDO has evolved well over the years, Bhujanga Rao said. Every year its Recruitment and Assessment Centre (RAC) selects several hundreds of candidates in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines pursued in the DRDO laboratories and the RAC assesses more than 1,400 scientists for promotion. The Centre for Personnel Talent Management (CEPTAM) recruits technical and administrative staff in the C and D categories.

Promoting science

Scientists of the DRDO are at liberty to publish papers in Indian and international journals and they are sent abroad for training. They receive professional update allowance to buy books and journals. They can pursue their M.Tech programmes and the organisation also encourages them to do their Ph.Ds. The organisation has a system of awarding meritorious scientists and these include the DRDO Scientist of the Year, the DRDO Technology Leadership Award and the Agni Award for Excellence.

Varunastra, the torpedo developed by the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory, Visakhapatnam.-C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The organisation helps its scientists to patent the products they develop and it has a directorate for this purpose. Last year, the DRDO patented more than 100 products. One of them related to designing stealth system for ships, Bhujanga Rao said.

We need a lot of infrared suppression system so that the enemy cannot detect the ships. The infrared signature from the exhaust of the ships prime mover has to be brought down to the acceptable level. So, we have designed an infrared suppression system and it is now being used in almost all the new class of ships [with the Navy]. This has been patented, he explained.

The government of India recently introduced a performance-related incentive scheme (PRIS) for all DRDO employees. Under the scheme, any employee is eligible to receive a maximum of 20 per cent increase in his basic pay, depending on his/her performance. A high-powered committee will assess employee performance.

There is a fast-track promotion scheme available for DRDO scientists, which is not available in other departments. We encourage them to perform better and get promotions faster, Bhujanga Rao said. A number of non-resident Indians (NRIs) apply to the DRDO for jobs and are interviewed over phone or through teleconferencing. If their performance is satisfactory, they are selected.

NSTLs facilities

Bhujanga Rao, who was earlier Director, NSTL, Visakhapatnam, said the NSTLs important project was the Varunastra, the heavy-duty torpedo developed by it. The torpedo has been tested in various R&D trials. It has to be proven in user [Navy] trials. We expect to complete the trials by this year-end.

(Varunastra weighs more than one tonne and contains about 250 kg of explosives. It travels at a speed of 40 knots, going in circles and bobbing up and down to attack the targets. It has a homing device to detect and attack a target. Its guidance system helps it take the optimum path to the target. See Frontline, March 23.)

The seakeeping and manoeuvring basin, another massive facility which is under construction at the NSTL, will be ready by early 2015. It is an artificial lake with a roof and it has a capacity to hold 240 lakh litres of water. In this lake, 135 metres long, 37 metres broad and 5 metres deep, waves will be generated to study the seaworthiness and agility of vessels. The NSTLs High Speed Towing Tank, with a water channel that is 500 metres long, helps scientists to study the resistance offered by water to ships and submarines. In the cavitation tunnel, bubble formation on the propeller blades is studied.

These three are national facilities which can be used for designing warships and merchant vessels. Unless we have these three facilities, we cannot design a good ship, said Bhujanga Rao.

As the Chief Controller (Armament and Combat Engineering, and Services Interaction), S. Sundaresh controls nine premier DRDO laboratories, including the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE)which developed Indias main battle tank, Arjun, and the Research and Development Establishment (Engineers), Pune (R & DE (E)). He is proud that the Army has placed orders for 124 main battle tanks each of Arjun Mark I and Arjun Mark II. As many as 118 Arjun Mark I tanks have been delivered to the Army. Two regiments of Mark I are already operationalised. The Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi, near Chennai, produced them.

Daksh

Sundaresh is delighted that the Army has inducted into service Daksh, a battery-operated robot on wheels, whose primary role is to locate, handle and defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The R & DE (E) developed Daksh. The Army has ordered 20 numbers of Daksh and they have been delivered. The Army has deployed them in the northern and western commands so that it can receive valuable feedback from the field, said Sundaresh. The Army will use Daksh for locating and defusing explosives. It is useful to the paramilitary forces and the police in counter-insurgency operations.

Daksh, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), locates IEDs with an X-ray machine, picks them up with a gripper arm and defuses them with a jet of water. It has a shotgun, which can fire and open locked doors and trunk-boxes containing explosives. It has special batteries that will allow it to operate for three hours. It can scan cars and two-wheelers for explosives. It can climb staircases, negotiate steep slopes and tow away platforms suspected to be having explosives. It has specially designed rubber wheels that can withstand blasts and traverse rugged terrain. A master control station controls Dakshs movements. A carrier vehicle can transport both Daksh and the master control station.

The R & DE (E) has developed a Daksh variant to reconnoitre areas where nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) agents could have been used. It has sensors, a radiation measurement and automatic control (RADMAC) unit, a portable gas chromatograph and a global positioning system (GPS). It can move around and plot the areas contaminated by NBC agents. It transmits data about the contamination and the location coordinates to the command centre.

In another 12-18 months, the R & DE (E) will develop a new NBC reconnoitring vehicle. It is a wheeled version comprising a big vehicle from which will roll out several small robotic vehicles, each weighing about 50 kilograms. The bigger vehicle will go up to a certain point and several robotic vehicles will roll out from it, Sundaresh said. These robots will move around quietly [and plot the contaminated areas].

The Arjun Mark II battle tank, developed by the CVRDE, is currently undergoing technical and user trials in Rajasthan. The major upgrades in Arjun Mark II include the panoramic sight with night vision to attack targets at night, missile-firing capability against long-range targets, an anti-aircraft gun to shoot down helicopters, penetrative ammunition, sensors to detect lasers fired by an enemy tank and a plough to weed out mines. It will take a few more months before all the user trials are completed. Sundaresh said, We have done some upgrades to the panoramic sight of Arjun Mark II. We have done ammunition trials. We have ammunition with higher penetration and other types of ammunition. We will fire them and we will give them to the user to fire them. Arjun Mark II will have a remote-controlled anti-aircraft gun. It has been integrated with the tank and has been evaluated by the user. In firepower, it is as good as any other tank in the world.

On the Mark II being heavier than the Mark I, Sundaresh said: While Arjun Mark I weighs 62 tonnes, Arjun Mark II weighs 67 tonnes. There is a difference of only five tonnes. Compared with Arjun Mark II, tanks of similar class such as Leopard 2, Merkava and M1 Abrams weigh between 65 tonnes and 70 tonnes. Owing to terrain conditions, the Army said Arjun Mark II cannot be deployed in all parts of the border.

P. Sivakumar, Director, CVRDE, asserted that the mobility characteristics of Arjun Mark II, such as acceleration, gradient climbing, cross-country ride and braking were excellent.

Sundaresh said the DRDO was developing the Mark II version of Pinaka, the multi-barrel rocket launcher that fires the Pinaka rockets. While the rocket Pinaka-I has a 10 km to 38 km range, Pinaka-II will have a range of 60 km. It will go for user-trials by the end of next year.

A kit with instruments for detecting explosives, developed by the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL), Pune, has gone into commercial production and is being distributed to different paramilitary forces. A United States company had paid DRDO $1,00,000 for the transfer of technology to market it in the U.S., said Sundaresh.

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