Tuesday, December 28, 2010

India Thought Leaders: Country Needs $8.8 Billion In Missiles, Systems In Five Years, DRDO Official Says

India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has set its sights on some big-ticket missile projects, driven by a new philosophy aimed at combating program delays, cost overruns and controversies. The man in the thick of the action is Avinash Chander, director of DRDO’s Hyderabad-based Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), who has been developing some critical programs, especially the Agni class of missiles. With industry showing signs of confidence in being party to India’s future missile missions, Chander feels the time has finally arrived to step on the gas with renewed focus. “There were many issues in the past with our missile programs and we have analyzed them all threadbare. It is an era of collaboration, sharing one’s strength. DRDO, [for] its part, has also realized that the success mantra for our survival is to deliver quality products on time,” Avinash tells Anantha Krishnan M., Aviation Week’s Senior Aerospace, Defense Correspondent (India), during the India Thought Leaders (ITL) interview series.
AW: What kind of potential are we looking at for India’s missile programs?
A.C: For the first time, India is seeing a huge potential in missile programs. It is predicted that we will need Rs 40,000 crore ($8.8 billion) worth of missiles and systems in the next five years. We haven’t seen this kind of a magnitude before. There’s a huge potential for long, medium, [and] short-range surface-to-air missiles (LR-SAM, MR-SAM and SR-SAM). Then there’s a need to develop more anti-tank and anti-radar missiles. Another area in focus is precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and shoulder-fired weapons. The list is long and we have to work concurrently to meet the needs.
AW: What are India’s strengths in the critical missile development segment?
A.C.: We have complete indigenous technology. All Agni systems are designed and developed with Indian technology by Indian scientists. No collaboration of any kind has gone into it. Our technology strengths are in propulsions, control and guidance, navigation systems and software capabilities. In the case of LR-SAMs (a project jointly being done by DRDO and Israel), barring the seeker and guidance, we are providing the rest. We had signed the JV (joint venture) in 2005. The missile has a range of 70 km. DRDO is developing the propulsion and actuation system for this ship-based system.
AW: So are we seeing a sort of arms race with all these developments?
A.C.: Absolutely not. We are creating adequate deterrence and our aim is to create the minimum essential capability for it. We must be prepared to survive the first strike and give [a] proper response. A lot of indigenous systems are getting onboard these platforms, which is the most significant aspect, often not highlighted enough. This is our strength.
AW: So what’s the future for our missile programs?
A.C.: The road map is very clear. We will have to develop long-range cruise missiles, which must be supersonic or even hypersonic. We have BrahMos with Russian collaboration. The hypersonic version is at its developmental stage, which can travel at Mach 6 with scramjet engines.  We need multiple warhead systems. We need to build intelligent countermeasures to meet antiballistic missile capabilities.
AW: What is the latest on DRDO’s hypersonic technology development vehicle (HSTDV)?
A.C.: HSTDV is getting ready for its first flight test. Ground tests on [the] Scramjet engine have been successful. DRDL has done excellent work in developing this technology. Several new materials, both composite and metallic, are being realized. We are establishing a hypersonic wind tunnel facility in Hyderabad at an investment of Rs 300-400 crore ($66.7 million – $88.9 million) to test various parameters of the HSTDV. We must be able to touch Mach 6-7 for 20 sec. in first flight, and the effort is on for longer duration. It will have to be commercially viable and many technologies will have to evolve. HSTDV is a scale-changer for us.
AW: How much private industry partnership can we expect in DRDO’s emerging programs?
A.C.: We have not put any ceiling to it. We are keen that a new strategy must emerge between the public sector undertaking and private players. It must be a competitive partnership. I feel the private industry will have to gear up to take challenging responsibilities. Industry needs to invest more in developing the in-house R&D capability which will enable them to take up systems. Thanks to the automobile industry, we have seen the quality bar going up very steadily. In aerospace, quality is critical and India has to go through a quantum change to get on to [the] next level.  We have come out of the survival level.
AW: So what are the immediate steps needed to achieve this?
A.C.: We need to look at cutting-edge technologies. Our universities [and] academic institutions can provide the motive force. The key is to have a national design base. We need to synergize the developments of various scientific organizations. A national data base on scientific progress needs to be created to provide information to all users. This has been the core strength of the United States and Russia. Best technologies come out of laboratories which are [an] integral part of universities. India is reaching that stage of fine-tuning technologies. We need to strengthen our academic institutions, and even they should come forward. The universities must come out with research which can aid our R&D efforts.
AW: Will all these wipe out the delay tag that has been on DRDO for a long time now?
A.C.: For any national program we must have strong political commitment, and these must be taken up with a commitment to deliver. Accountability is the key. There have been delays to our programs. We had started from near zero base in 1980 with a very weak industrial infrastructure. Today we have a strong technology base. We must not have any technological gaps when we take up generation-next projects. We must plan for the Mk-II variants when we begin work for Mk-I itself. This will save us from time and cost overruns. We must assess the capabilities we have and narrow down our weaknesses as we progress. I admit that DRDO must change. And you are already seeing there’s a huge shift in our work culture. You will see the difference in the years ahead. Our products will speak for us.

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