DRDO Ably Responds to Futuristic Warfare Needs
DRDO has been continuously and consistently putting its best efforts in realizing the advanced defence systems and technologies for Indian Armed Forces. DRDO will take up system development in the emerging dimensions of warfare and in the field of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, photonics, cyber technology and the like. “DRDO scientists are working in niche defence technology areas for building next generation systems, weapons and platforms and have chartered out paths to harness these technologies. Scientists are collaborating extensively with academia in the blue sky research and with industry to develop defence systems in the shortest time frame. DRDO will be responding ably to the future war-fighting requirements of the tri-services with advanced technologies,” says Dr. G Satheesh Reddy, Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman DRDO. In an interview with Aeromag, he talks about the organisations latest operations diversified focus on futuristic technologies.
Over the last six decades DRDO has been the backbone of India’s defence research and development. What are your thoughts on DRDO’s success in achieving its aims over these years?
DRDO has been continuously and consistently putting its best efforts in realizing the advanced defence systems and technologies for Indian Armed Forces. Efforts put by DRDO over last six decades resulted in induction of many products into the service’s and many are on the anvil. DRDO is keeping abreast of the scientific development, advanced technologies in defence arena and is working on new futuristic products.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, 2020 has been a fruitful year for DRDO with many successful testing of weapons and technologies. Could you give an overview of major achievements recently?
Start of year 2020 saw inauguration of five DRDO Young Scientists Laboratories (DYSLs) by Prime Minister. Naval version of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) did a successful arrested landing onboard INS Vikramaditya on 11th January 2020.DRDO scientists have worked relentlessly during the COVID-19 Pandemic not only to develop products and technologies for combating COVID but have been keeping a pace with their project deadlines. DRDO undertook product development on war footing to fight COVID-19 pandemic and developed 50 technologies and more than 75 products which include PPEs, Hand Sanitizer, UV Blaster, Germi Klean and the like, which have direct utilization to combat COVID 19. DRDO has also developed three COVID hospitals in a very short span of time. Flight Testing of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) and Quantum Communication are significant technology demonstrations this year. The work picked up after lockdown and a series of weapon trials carried out. Some of the major achievements in the year 2020 are trials of Air Defence Fire Control Radar (ADFCR) ‘Atulya’, Advanced Light Weight Torpedo (ALWT), 3rd Generation Helicopter Launch Anti-Tank Guided Missile (Dhruvastra). DRDO identified 108 Systems and Subsystems for industry to design, develop and manufacture towards achieving “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESAR) ‘Uttam’ completed 100 hours of testing. ABHYAS High-speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT), Extended range Pinaka Weapon System, Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART) and indigenous development of Anti-Radiation Missile (RUDRAM) flight tests were successful. Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) System has achieved a major milestone by a direct hit onto a Banshee Pilotless target aircraft at medium range & medium altitude. MRSAM had the maiden successful test flight. Other major systems which have completed the testing include Fire Detection and Suppression System (FDSS) for passenger buses and 5.56 x 30 mm Joint Venture Protective Carbine (JVPC). Hypersonic Wind Tunnel a major asset for advanced aerospace design validation capabilities was inaugurated by RM this year.
The BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile has been India’s most potent firepower for more than two decades now and in December BrahMos in Anti-Ship mode was successfully test fired by the Navy. What are the latest updates of BrahMos project and what is the roadmap ahead for the missile?
The series of successful test firings conducted by all three wings of Indian Armed Forces between October and December 2020 has established this weapon’s supremacy as an indispensable “strategic force multiplier” asset. We have been consistently working on further improving the capabilities with increased indigenous content in the missiles, reaching quite high proportions, thus bolstering national security even while emboldening our commitment to an “Aatma Nirbhar bharat”. BrahMos-NG can also be mounted in numbers in SU-30 and also in Missile boats up to 4 missiles which will make them one of the most potent missile boats.
DRDO has played a pivotal role in enhancing India’s missile capabilities and this yearthere were major milestones in terms of A-SAT, ATGM, RUDRAM, Pinaka Weapon System etc. Could you elaborate on DRDO’s projects on missiles other than BrahMos?
ASAT was test proven in 2019 and it was a text book hit of the in-orbit satellite in the space. This year major milestones were achieved in the Anti-Tank missile segment. Laser guided anti-tank missile was successfully tested in September. The missile employs a tandem HEAT warhead to defeat Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) protected armoured vehicles. The trial evaluation was done from the gun of MBT Arjun. Nag user trials were completed in October this year. Man portable ATGM is getting ready for induction. QRSAM is the first track on the move and fire missile. The developmental trials of the weapon system are successfully completed and the weapon system is expected to be ready for induction. The RUDRAM is first indigenous anti-radiation missile of the country for Indian Air Force and is integrated on SU-30 MKI fighter aircraft as the launch platform. Development of Enhanced Pinaka rocket system was taken up to achieve longer range performance compared to earlier design. The first set of trials was completed in November this year.
In September, DRDO has successfully demonstrated the hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology with the flight test of Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle (HSTDV). How crucial is this technology and what are its applications?
The HSDTV test in October this year has put India in a select league of nations who possess hypersonic scramjet proportion technology. After US, Russia and China, India is the fourth country who has demonstrated this capability. Hypersonic means the speed of the vehicle is more than 5 Mach and there are many crucial technologies associated with this. Many critical technologies such as aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic maneuvers, use of scramjet propulsion for ignition and sustained combustion at hypersonic flow, thermo-structural characterization of high temperature materials, separation mechanism at hypersonic velocities etc. are proven. Hypersonic technology offers the ability to fly at low altitude instead of ballistic trajectory, which helps avoid detection at farther ranges by earth-based sensors. Maneuverability at low altitudes at that speed adds unpredictability which is major advantage. The applications of hypersonic technology include Hypersonic Glide Vehicles and Hypersonic Cruise Missiles.Hypersonic Missiles can inflict serious damage on to time critical enemy targets.
Enhancing India’s UAV capabilities is one of the major objectives of DRDO and Rustom-2 medium altitude long endurance indigenous prototype drone was flight tested in October. What are the updates of various drone projects by DRDO?
DRDO has envisaged the need for a dedicated test range for testing and evaluation range to handle the fast-growing requirements of UAVs. Aeronautical Test range has been established at Chitradurga, which is the only range for flight testing of UAVs in the country. Rustom I, a Medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle was conceived as test bed for technology evaluation for Rustom -2 project. Rustom I itself can be used as a UAV which can be operated from runways. It can operate at altitudes upto 20,000 feet and has endurance of 12-15 hrs with range upto 250 km and payload capacity of 75 kg; Rustom 2 is a MALE UAV with operating altitude of upto 30,000 feet and endurance upto 24 hrs with operating range of 1000 km (with SATCOM). The development trials are likely to be completed by July 2021. Abhyas is an expendable Aerial Target developed for practice firing by Armed forces, which has enormous potential.
The LCA Tejas is completing 20 years of its first flight and there are various developments in terms of IAF’s bulk order and the trials of LCA Navy version. How do you assess the LCA project and what are the challenges in terms of pace of production?
LCA has come a long way after the first flight 20 years ago from a Technology Demonstrator to prove niche 4+ generation technologies to a full-fledged fighting machine which will be the backbone of IAF. two squadrons of LCA A/F have been inducted and another six squadron are in pipeline. LCA Navy made a landmark achievement this year by conducting arrested landing and takeoff from INS Vikramaditya. This puts India in a select group of nations having this technology. The trials on the carrier were the outcome of numerous trials on SBTF over the last few years. More than 400 high sink rate landings and other tests were conducted on SBTF. As a result, in a remarkably short span of 5 days, 18 landings and takeoffs could be completed on the carrier successfully. There was a learning curve in production of our own advanced aircraft as against licensed production earlier. Multiple assembly lines are rolling out aircraft in HAL. HAL is outsourcing most of the major assemblies to harness the Pvt. Industry and increase rate of production.
The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has released DRDO Procurement Manual 2020 in October to encourage more participation of private industry in Defence R&D. What are DRDO’s activities to support Atmanirbhar Bharat?
The last procurement manual was released in 2016 and PM-2020 comes in the wake of Atma Nirbhar Bharat call of Prime Minister. For defence production to happen in the country, industry and PSUs are to be enabled and an atmosphere of ease of working to be created. The PM-2020, will facilitate faster execution of R&D projects/programmes. The modified features of the Manual will go a long way to facilitate participation of industry in various R&D projects. The important facilitations include bid security declaration option for earnest money deposit, increase of threshold limit for advance payment, placement of order on second lowest bidder (L2) in case L1 backs out. These will assist the industry for the speedy execution of projects. Some of the other measures are exemption of bid security and performance security up to Rs10 lakh, no negotiations for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) items/services wherever price discovery ishappening through market forces. Performance security for service contracts is linked to the payment cycle instead of total contract value. Procurement of stores from development partners, safeguarding of free issue material through insurance cover instead of bank guarantee (BG) are other measures adopted to help the industry. The liquidated damage (LD) rate for development contracts has been reduced. The delivery period (DP) extension process has been simplified for faster decision making. Many of the internal procedures have been further simplified for faster engagement with industry.
India is actively proceeding with the modernisation of the armed forces and how does DRDO support this? What are the challenges ahead for boosting the combat readiness of armed forces?
With changing times, the old systems are required to be replaced with newer ones. Technologies for defence are changing and so are their applications in the emerging defence scenarios. The newer and faster systems are to be deployed. Modernization of Armed Forces is a very involved job and a lot of effort from all stakeholders is required to be carried out in a synergistic mode. In this massive work, DRDO is geared up to put efforts for enhancing the overall capacity of defence development in the country. DRDO has increased its design and development capability for faster design and development. DRDO is fully equipped with quick design and development of missiles, radars, sonars and EW systems. With the available expertise, large systems like tanks and aircrafts can also be designed on shorter timelines. DRDO has also laid down many policies to cut down the delays in technology transfer to industry for the production of systems. The initiatives like Development cum Production Partners will further help industry to work concurrently with development so that the know how is transferred seamlessly for life cycle support of the developed system.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, DRDO and its labs have extended its civilian arm through various projects and inventions to fight the pandemic in terms of disinfection, nutrition, swab collection etc. Could you shed more light onto this?
DRDO’s Life Sciences cluster had expertise in many CBRN technologies and due to this many products to combat COVID-19 could be developed. Similarly, competencies in mechanical, electronics and control engineering helped in making many crucial products for prevention and disinfection. Immediate development actions and policy decisions were taken to develop sanitizers, improvise PPE development and advanced face masks. PPE test facility was operated 24X7 to help industry develop PPEs and also to verify the imported PPEs. DRDO aided in COVID-19 sample testing at many places like Delhi, Tezpur, Haldwani and Gwalior etc. to ease the load on local medical bodies. Automatic hand sanitizers, UV disinfection systems for various applications, Software for tracking and monitoring COVID infections, plants for medical grade oxygen, secure Video conferencing solutions, indigenization of crucial parts of Ventilator and its efficacy testing leading to Ventilator development in the country are some of the examples of the products developed by DRDO for fighting COVID-19 Pandemic. Not only these products were developed in a short period of time, the technologies were transferred to the industry in record-time so that production can be scaled up and the products can reach the medical practitioners and common man for use. DRDO built three hospitals in the shortest period of time at Delhi, Muzzaffarpur and Bihta, equipped with all medical facilities including large number of ICU beds. These hospitals cured and saved many lives at the time of crisis when there were rising cases and shortage of beds.
What will be the highlights of DRDO’s participation in the upcoming Aero India?
This year DRDO will be showcasing the electronics and software-based solutions which is the requirement of the day. Other than these, LCA Navy will be on Tarmac. LCA Tejas and AEW&C will be in flying displays. Airborne avionics developed by DRDO will be highlighted. The entire range of indigenous SAM missiles will be showcased in Aero India.
What are your visions and priorities for DRDO over the next two years? What are the objectives in bolstering national security?
DRDO will take up system development in the emerging dimensions of warfare and in the field of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, photonics, cyber technology and the like. DRDO scientists are working in niche defence technology areas for building next generation systems, weapons and platforms and have chartered out paths to harness these technologies. Scientists are collaborating extensively with academia in the blue sky research and with industry to develop defence systems in the shortest time frame. A number of activities pertaining to various systems like AEW&C, AMCA, Guided Pinaka, Radar systems, Missile systems, Underwater unmanned systems are planned for 2021.There are many other defence technologies and systems DRDO has taken up for development. DRDO will be responding ably to the future war fighting requirements of the tri services with advanced technologies.