Monday, July 01, 2013

'Unprecedented Number Of Our Systems On Threshold Of Operations': DRDO Chief

"I don't think there has been any other period in DRDO when we've had so many products lined up to enter service and prove themselves across different clusters."

The DRDO's new chief Dr Avinash Chander is right. He takes office at a time of perhaps never before activity in the organisation. Products and technologies seeded years ago will achieve maturity under his stewardship, and if everything goes well, most of those will enter operational service. In an exclusive interview to Headlines Today/Livefist, the DRDO chief exudes confidence. Refreshingly, it isn't without caution and much-needed pragmatism.

"DRDO will have to scale itself up in a much much bigger way. That's where we will have a lot of internal re-engineering and a new paradigm of technology development involving academics in a much much bigger way," he tells me. "I see the next three-five years as a major milestone in DRDO. It's the first time a whole series of equipment will be fielded out of DRDO to the customer."

Dr Chander is keenly aware of the mindset battle he has before him. Armed forces have only tentatively begun to come around to indigenous equipment, as opposed to imports. "Aim is that products have to measure up to the user's confidence level, which in turn should result in a change in mindset in the belief in our indigenous capabilities. That's my topmost priority: to build confidence in our indigenous capability," the DRDO chief says. He then lists out the product priorities:

"It starts the LCA, which is our topmost priority. In addition, we'll  see the Agni IV and V inducted in the next two years, the first time we will be inducting strategic missiles with such long ranges together. We are also completing the Arjun Mk.2, with about 100 improvements. It has become a real mean fighting machine, ready to go. The user wants everything integrated and the user will be carrying out the trials. Our joint ventures and joint developments on LRSAM, MRSAM will go into production in this period. The SR-SAM project (with MBDA of France) will get sanctioned, and within four years, we will get into the production of that."

The inevitable question on private Indian industry comes up. As the spearhead of the Agni ballistic missile programme, Dr Chander has had a chance to work closely with private companies who build myriad systems on India's strategic weapons. "The DRDO is at a turning point where we have to re-engineer ourselves for the future," he says. "Indian industry is going to have a major role in the indegenisation process. For the first time I'm seeing the visibility of 75% indigenous content for our armed forces. I now feel confident we should be able to achieve that. As more investment comes into industry, programme and technology management skills will be a force multipler for DRDO. I have now a base where we can build much higher."

It's clear that the LCA occupies his mind more than anything else today, and rightly. "If I'm making an LCA, I have to design the computer, the actuators, practically everything in-house. But once this capability comes to industry, 50% of my load gets transferred to industry. I can find a value engineered product coming from industry. Time cycles will come down, quality will go up."

It's what Dr Chander says next that introduces a sense of promise to the new leadership at an organisation that's floated through its history with sometimes ludicrous promises, often failing to deliver, and always with serious consequences to the Indian taxpayer. Under Dr Chander, hopefully, things could begin to change.


Leaning back contemplatively in his chair, Dr Chander says, "Perhaps DRDO has been too optimistic in its time-frames. No aircraft has been developed from scratch to production in less than 18-20 years. It's a universal cycle across the world, including at companies like Boeing and Airbus. But our time-cycles are now coming down. In fact, for AMCA, when we take it up, the time cycle will come down to 12-15 years as against 20-22 years. As we deliver, the confidence of the our system will increase. Then this process of making a prototype, then engineering model, all this will change. Then you will have full trust of the armed forces and political system. If I am asked to make 200 aircraft, and is decided upfront today, you plan the industry and infrastructure growth. HAL is planning LCA production now, 10 or 15 years down the line, because now there is visibility of orders. But we are losing time in the process. If commitments are given right at the beginning, time cycles will come down. With these 8-10 products coming, we should be able to get the trust of our users."

Former President and DRDO chief APJ Abdul Kalam had harped often on a self-reliance index as an indicator of DRDO's success. I ask Dr Chander if he believes in it, and what he plans to achieve on that scale.

He says, "Self-reliance is a function of DRDO technology, our production base, our armed forces joining to take up indigenous products. All three are synergising well to make it happen. As far as DRDO is concerned, we are going to deliver LCA. If it comes into production, it means Rs 40,000 crore in the next 10 years. We want India to be ammunition import independent. We are working hard towards that. This will run in tens of thousands of crores. We are making big headway in radars. Our aim is that all future missile systems should have Indian radars. Many of these major steps are happening, as performance of our systems is seen to be better than imported weapons, we are confidence of being more suitable and acceptable. With that 75 per cent self reliance index is definitely achievable. More than that will not be economically viable. Currently the self reliance index is more than 50 per cent."


16 comments :

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of the Bombaiya slang:

Khali Pili Bom Marta hai !!

Vijainder K Thakur said...

A lot of hopes rest on the proven scientific acumen and administrative capabilities of the new DRDO Chief.

Hopefully senior leadership across the board will be charged with the enthusiasms that Dr Chander is displaying.

Just some points on what Dr. Chander said.

"If I'm making an LCA, I have to design the computer, the actuators, practically everything in-house. But once this capability comes to industry, 50% of my load gets transferred to industry. I can find a value engineered product coming from industry. Time cycles will come down, quality will go up."

My doubt is - hasn't HAL been making all this stuff for nearly 40 years now?

I know the answer - so wittingly or unwittingly Dr Chander has conceded to a damning truth?

Also, there is the other side of the coin to the logic of large orders facilitating smooth and early production. Again, no need for me to spell it out. Why is that DRDO officials never strive for a balance when projecting there views?

Abhiman said...

Firstly, I salute Dr. Avinash Chander. He is matching his words with Action, what with the frenzied pace of testing of the Tejas.

I'm fully confident, that under his able leadership, the Tejas will be delivered to the IAF very soon. It shall also serve the IAF for many decades to come.

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Mr. Vijender Thakur, Dr. Chander said that the actuators, computers etc. have to be designed in-house. HAL has all these years been only assembling these components, that are imported. It merely "tightened the screws" of these equipment onto aircraft, which are license-made too.

DRDO has, for the first time designed these equipment inhouse, since no country will ever part with this sensitive technology, ever (no matter how much cash is paid).

Again, God-speed to Dr. Chander !

Anonymous said...

"Soon" is the favorite word of DRDO.

sents said...

You are right sir, lots of projects are in the verge of completion now. Our new DRDO chief's confidence is good. Out of all the projects LCA Tejas and Arjun MK2 are the ones people are looking very closely.

Anonymous said...

.
"Under Dr Chander, hopefully, things could begin to change."
.
Where have we been ???
.

Anonymous said...

Talk is cheap, Proof is in the pudding.

Deliver on the much maligned and the almost doomed Arjun and Tejas apart from the myriad of other projects namely Nag, Astra, INSAS etc, etc....

More than delivery of the much delayed projects where the end product seems to be no longer relevant to current requirements and objectives, the need of the hour is to stop the systemic rot and undertake the much desired structural reforms at DRDO

Anonymous said...

Of course the backlog of products due to enter service has reached unprecedented levels. But is this something to boast about?

Abhiman said...

It is the armed forces that actually create a backlog while inducting indigenous weapons.

The Arjun tank has proven itself repeatedly against the Russian T-90 tanks. Yet, only 248 Arjuns have been ordered so far. Why ? I think there is systemic corruption within the Army (not a surprise given that a former Air Chief has been accused of corruption too).

The INSAS served us very well during the Kargil war. Even the Nepali soldiers in Kargil were armed with INSAS. True, it met with some problems, but which rifle in the world hasn't had problems ? Just Google, "M-16 problems in Vietnam", and you'll know.

Similarly, Tejas is being pushed to the hilt to be picture-perfect, when it could easily have bee inducted by the IAF even a year ago. If they can fly those old doddering MiG-21s, no reason why even a limited-feature Tejas cannot be inducted.

Also vis-a-vis Tejas, even the Typhoon was inducted without any A2G capability! It was slated to come later. The Gripen had even crashed in its testing phase! Yet, the Swedish govt. accepted it and also managed to export it to so many nations.

When will Indian armed forces change their silly mindset ?

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the number of former Armed Forces chiefs who have been not exactly lily white...and the truth emerges...take a look at Sareen and the Su-30 deal and how he behaved with his fellow officers, Tyagi and the Barak issue..and later AW choppers...and it becomes clear is daal main sab kaale hain..

Anonymous said...

@Abhiman

Former Army Chief doesn't knows even his date of birth. He dragged the Govt to the court like a student who is poor in studies.

DRDO has given the nation state of the art weapons systems like Arjun, Agni, Tejas etc. Typhoon, F35 etc. are also facing teething problems inspite of the pedigree of those building them. After the foolish testing of Atom Bombs DRDO faced severe sanctions. In spite of all the hurdles it has done a fantastic job.

It seems our armed forces and netas are extremely reluctant to buy indigenous products as they do not yield any kickbacks. No wonder they want Pvt Cos to enter this sector as they will merely purchase the stuff from foreign companies and brand those products as their own after charging hefty commission and passing a part of the booty to our netas and top brass. Helping them in this scheme to loot the nation is our media which is owned by these Pvt Cos.

Is it any wonder that politicians belonging to Cong are being gunned down by the masses?

rustom said...

On abhiman's statement of "If they can fly those old doddering MiG-21s, "...

This just proved that the author has no clue of what he is talking of. Thus the rest i.e lip service for DRDO falls in place

Anonymous said...

You are a f_c_ed up guy. What do u have to show for contributing to our country? If better, less or even 10% of the DRDO director then say your piece respectfully. No need to belittle a man who has devoted his life to contributing to our national development

Abhiman said...

Mr. Rustam, you can easily compare the specs of the latest MiG-21s, with those of the Tejas that's still in testing.

The Tejas wins hands down and MiG-21 loses, pants down.

Your comment is no different from the utterly silly comment of former Air-Chief, Mr. Naik, that the Tejas is a MiG-21++. Someone ought to tell him Tejas is more of a Gripen C/D and an F-16 C/D.

rustom said...

I guess the brochure boys of DRDO are doing rounds on some blogs..yet at the cost of some reposting..thus the Mig 21 bashing ...but the bashing only shows that the bashers of mIG 21 do not know the story or having put blinds on their eyes, think they can hoodwink the rest of the world...after all DRDO and its brochures have to justify their jobs...

To give a prelude to the 21 story

In 1997 DRDO halted the Army's requirement of Gun locating radar... DRDO claimed that they were on the verge of success in the field.
Thus the IA was thrust into a war without the equipment in the kargil war. A complete study should be carried out of the casualties suffered due to the non availability of the equipment.


Tejas Story v/s Mig 21: The above example is a domino effect from the LCA story of DRDO...

For decades HAL/DRDO who are closer to MoD and Babus stopped the IAF from procuring trainers. The same bull of being at the threshold of technology and lying about delivering the product. This with arm twisting the IAF to accept the trainers they produced that were actually flying coffins.
In the mean time the IAF who was arm twisted by DRDO/HAL had to strategise to UN do the misdeeds of DRDO brochures and blatant lies... They had to train rookie pilots...thus they adapted the Mig 21 as basic trainer.....which ofcourse it is not...result was that there was a high attrition rate.....add to that parts brought from Ukraine in the early 90s and ofcourse HALS own produces for the plane that were failing...

Result...armchair theologists started blaming the Mig 21...AND DRDO/HAL uped the ante....Yet whilst deceiving the nation that they are on the threshold of making a plane..

Ironically HALs plane be it 21s or others also started crashing...HAL would be like a cat with milk if the crashed plane/engine would have to be dragged out from fields etc..so that it could then blame the part explaining the crash as being perfect, damaged only whilst transporting/ the crashed engine....
HALS/DRDO audacity to justfy their jobs not only stopped themselves from acknowledging their failures...thus halting any remedial jobs...but insisted further that the IAF be denied a trainer....whilst HAL kept on producing outdated machinery....the blame fell on the 21s and the effects on the IAF.....not on HAl/drdo as their brochures and their brochure boys made them even get larger chunk of the armed forces budgets...
DRDOs best produces... is mushrooms and hybrid capsicums, vegetable cultivation in high altitidye..leh...then convinience foods ( probably not heard of noodles in a cup) and yoga exercises that are packaged by other million trainers as stress busters..and the results of NAG, AKASH, etc are known including the arjun tank though being boasted on one hand, the other hand askign the armed forces to use equipment under the spira technology..that is oudated, not working equioment should be given to soldiers to use and fight a war against the best that even terrorists uses and then spiraly the DRDO will improve upon it....


Its time a case of deceipt and attempt to undermine national security is filed against DRDO and the advisors to the MoD that expect the armed forces to die due to the inadequacies and utter incompetance of the babus and likes of DRDO/HAL

Abhiman said...

Mr. Rustom, the procurement procedures of the Indian Armed forces is in tatters (and has been for most of its history).

Regarding WLRs, I know you're referring to Gen. Mallik's controversial statement that the Indian toll during Kargil would've been lower, but for DRDO.

The Indian Army was trying very hard to import WLRs even before the Kargil war. An RFP issued in 1995 for WLRs was replied by only one American company; and that too did not meet the Army's specifications. In 1998, negotiations were begun again with the US for WLRs, but after the nuke tests the same year, sanctions were imposed. This killed any last hope of importing WLRs.

So, the theory of DRDO's opposition to the import doesn't hold much water. Even suppose if they really had opposed, the final decision rests with the MoD and the army. DRDO doesn't have any veto on the army's procurement.

However, I do concede that Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam did have a ear in the MoD on import decisions, maybe due to his public stature. It is indeed true that he recommended against the import of Barak missiles in the late 1990s, since the Trishul was already underway. Not that the Barak was a super missile: in trials before the Indian Navy it failed. That's what motivated Dr. Kalam to root for the Trishul. So, his opposition to Barak's import was not without merit.

The Trishul did deliver many successful hits in tests. But by the mid-2000s, seeker-based missiles had become the norm globally, and passively guided missiles like Trishul were on the way out. Also, by that time the Israelis had rectified the Barak's shortcomings and the Navy finally bought it.

Regarding the trainers, I agree with you on HAL's utter stupidity and unprofessional attitude.

You see, HAL has a monopoly on manufacturing aircraft in India. And like every monopoly, it is lazy, because no matter what, its market is always assured (contrast this with DRDO, which has to compete hard with foreign companies to woo the forces).

So, when DRDO begs HAL to expedite construction of Tejas units, it doesn't oblige immediately. Why ? Because its busy in its own pet projects like Dhruv and IJT (not that Dhruv is bad). It knows that if not the Tejas, it can always bank upon a license of some or the other imported plane to earn money. Yesterday, it was the MiGs and Jaguars. Today, it is the MRCA. Tomorrow (unfortunately), it will be the Russian PAK-FA.

So, why heed the DRDO on the Tejas?

Unbeknownst to many, there is actually a lot of acrimony between the DRDO and HAL. It is for this reason that DRDO has repeatedly pitched for private companies like L&T, Godrej & Boyce and Walchand to be allowed to manufacture defence items (see Dr. VK Saraswat's interview on NDTV "Walk the Talk"). Otherwise, monopolies like HAL, OFB and BEML will always be albatrosses around DRDO's neck.

Coming to the IJT. It was always HAL's baby. DRDO was never involved in its conception, manufacture and testing.

Regarding the Akash missiles, IAF has ordered 1000 missiles and the army, over 2000. The Nag has also been ordered by the army in large numbers.

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Finally:

We must shed our blind worship of the armed forces. We must not lap up anything and everything they claim. True, we all respect the soldier on the border and the pilot and the sea-man. But that doesn't mean the armed forces cannot be subjected to an objective analysis and critique of their procurement decisions. I'm sorry to say, a good number of their procurement decisions are not only stupid, but also smack of corruption.