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BW Businessworld

‘New Technology Fund For Private Players’

Secretary, Department of Defence Research and Development and director general, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) S. Christopher shares DRDO’s plans to hand-hold industry in high-risk development tasks

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Secretary, Department of Defence Research and Development and director general, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) S. Christopher, divulges plans to encourage research among private sector players in defence production. He shares with BW Businessworld’s Brij Pahwa, DRDO’s plans to hand-hold industry in high-risk development tasks.

Excerpts of the conversation:

DRDO is a leading defence research organisation in the world. Is it a formidable legacy?
In the late 1970s, the nation took a deliberate decision that DRDO should grow from a small-scale weapon and equipment development organisation through reverse engineering, and venture into the indigenous design and development of large-scale military systems. This resulted in a paradigm shift in DRDO’s approach from “Know How to Know Why”. That was a renaissance of sorts in DRDO, as we started thinking big in the military context. The Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), headed by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was the star of all the programmes during that period. Light combat aircraft (LCA), gas turbine engines, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare (EW) systems, subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles, battle tanks, air defence radars, special materials, airborne surveillance systems, etc., followed in quick succession.

How do you see DRDO facilitating the Make in India initiative in the defence sector?
DRDO’s mission mode projects are the pivot for the Make in India programme. The total production value of DRDO developed systems already inducted or approved for induction is more than Rs 2.1 lakh crore, which translates into four to five times the value in case of imported systems, excluding the strategic system and infrastructure developed by the DRDO. Many DRDO developed defence systems will make a huge impact on the Make in India programme, including LCA-Tejas, Akash, Pinaka weapon systems, electronic warfare systems like Samudrika and Himshakti, various class of radars, advanced torpedo defence system — Maareech, the heavy-weight torpedo, Varunastra and the BrahMos missile.

The DRDO has also nurtured more than 1,000 MSME partners across the country. The positive vibes in the domestic market have opened up plenty of opportunities for exporting systems like the Akash missiles, AEW&C and BrahMos to friendly countries.

Will DRDO involve private industries as R&D partners in keeping with the Make In India drive ?
Yes, the DRDO has also taken new initiatives to promote defence innovations in private industries, particularly MSMEs. I am happy to announce that DRDO has been entrusted to operationalize a Technology Development Fund (TDF) to encourage research through private industries and to hand-hold them in high-risk development tasks. Under this scheme, the industries will be involved in development activities in high-end technical areas to accelerate the production process without any burden of R&D cost. Even industries can get advance of a typical project cost of Rs 10 crore to meet the project requirements. The TDF released by DRDO in September 2016 is bound to encourage and enhance R&D activities in private industries.

Apart from this we have also opened up the existing R&D infrastructure available in various DRDO laboratories for the private sector at nominal rates. These steps are going to be a big push for the Make in India programme in the defence sector.

Do you see the enhanced FDI limit in defence production as a challenge?
The enhancement of the FDI limit to 100 per cent in the defence sector can be viewed as another turning point in India’s quest for self-reliance in arms production. For long, the industry and the business sector in India and abroad have been demanding unlimited access to foreign investments in the defence sector on the same lines as in other sectors.

For DRDO, this could mean a bigger opportunity to accelerate R&D in various technologically complex domains, as investments in defence production and specialised manufacturing facilities are expected to be scaled up exponentially, with more private partners joining the fray.

Indian security personnel work in extremely harsh environments. How does DRDO propose to ensure better work conditions for them?
Our laboratories strive hard to get to the core of the problems being faced by our troops in areas of counter insurgency operations, like high altitude areas, deserts, glaciated terrains and the Siachin. They are working on mitigation of problems of defence personnel operating in harsh environments of the country’s border areas. More recently, DRDO inaugurated an Extreme Altitude Research Centre at Changla in Jammu and Kashmir at 17,600 feet above mean sea level, the world’s highest terrestrial R&D centre. The centre will undertake research and development work in frontal areas of food and agriculture and bio-medical sciences for the well-being of soldiers deployed in high-altitude, cold, desert areas. This would definitely enhance the tactical efficiency of combat troops.

What initiatives has DRDO taken to promote academia partnership and innovations in defence manufacturing?

The DRDO Academia partnership is being pursued in project mode through four research boards in armaments, aero, naval and life sciences domains. But it was felt that these efforts were not enough and to make a stronger pitch with academia, DRDO has already created centres of excellence at various varsities, like IIT Madras, University of Hyderabad and Bharathiyar University, with targeted technology verticals.

The DRDO has recently signed MoUs with IITs for collaborative research, which includes establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Propulsion Technology (COPT) at IIT Bombay in July 2016 and setting up the Jagdish Chandra Bose Centre for Advanced Technology (JCBCAT) at Jadavpur University in June 2016.

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