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DRDO Will Continue To Engage In Cutting-edge Technologies: G. Satheesh Reddy

In an exclusive interaction with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha, DRDO Chairman and Secretary Department of Defence R&D G. Satheesh Reddy talks about the critical issues of R&D in Defence, apart from other pertinent issues.

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Despite insufficient budget and structural changes,  Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has performed commendable on missile technology and fighter aircraft. In an exclusive interaction with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha, DRDO Chairman and Secretary Department of Defence R&D G. Satheesh Reddy talks about the critical issues of R&D in Defence, apart from other pertinent issues.  

Excerpts:


The plan to develop Kaveri fighter engine as a part of the Rafale deal has hit a roadblock after the Indian side found pricing prohibitive. Only a part of the offsets, over €250 million, could be utilised for the project and the remaining €500 million, the DRDO would have to shell out. Please share insight about the Kaveri engine and challenges to achieve the required thrust? Do you still see Kaveri as a potential fit? 
While developing Kaveri engine, we have learnt our lessons. It was a useful, technology development vehicle to traverse the path of fighter aircraft engine development cycle and understanding. The project gave enormous insight and experience in development of materials; various sub systems, assembly and testing an aircraft engine. It might have fallen short of expectations, but teams have gone through the process and now the requisite know how to develop a fighter aircraft engine and the intricacies involved. They are better equipped to handle and point of take off is definitely higher for next gen aircraft engine.

We have moved beyond Kaveri engine in terms of power, technology and utility. We intend to develop our own engines for fighter aircrafts; it could be with or without collaboration. Development of such critical technology is not about economics or offsets but about building technological capability in the country.

Then, how about the AMCA and Tejas MK 2, as they require higher capacity engine?
Higher capacity engine is a must for both aircrafts and there are no two opinions about that. Two parallel approaches are being planned, first is use of imported engine for development, and second is to develop indigenous engine, while progressing aircraft integration and flight testing to prove other aspects.

Do we see the AMCA project being realised by 2023 as it addresses the huge capability gap in IAF for the depleting squadron? With the current scope of design, will the AMCA be at par with the F-22 Raptor and the F-35? 
It is our endeavor to develop the AMCA as per the project schedule to meet the Air force requirements. Preliminary designs of the aircraft have already been carried out. We should be in a position to roll out the first AMCA within 5 years of projection. We are not comparing AMCA with other aircrafts, but trying to meet our specifications.

Kindly tell about India’s two-tier Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system? 
India is one of the few countries to pursue the BMD programme with vigor and enthusiasm. We have demonstrated our BMD capability through both simulation studies as well as live target engagements in both endo and exo regions.  All essential technologies required for BMD include propulsion, sensors, precision control systems and terminal intercept with kill vehicle technologies, which have matured and proven through trials.

This alleged that the DRDO is just tinkering with the World War II equipment instead of working on cutting-edge technology...
A-SAT, Ballistic Missiles, Ballistic Missiles defence Systems, Radars, Sonars, EW systems, Torpedoes are state-of-the-art systems and not World War II systems. Ignorance is not a bliss. DRDO has always and will continue to engage in cutting edge technologies. All the stakeholders have always appreciated the efforts of DRDO. Incidentally, in all of the above systems, we are one of the six or seven countries in the world to develop such capability.
Such points are raised to undermine the gains achieved from indigenous technology. We aimed to achieve self reliance in defence equipment and systems.

Do we see the DRDO taking a giant leap in futuristic technologies such as Drones/Anti drones, AI applied applications, robotics in defence? Could you please give us the details of advance research in such areas, in the context of defence?
Drones and Anti Drone technology area is on our prime agenda, as we are grappling with the current threat scenario. We are involving academia, startups and industry in a big way. We are working in the areas of cyber security, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, asymmetric technologies.

Laser-based CIWS by the DRDO’s Laser Science and Technology Centre takes on the future battlefield? Where are we now? Will the laser-Direct Energy as the weapon be the dominant weapon of the future?
We have been working in the field of lasers and directed energy weapons for quite some time. We have developed a system, which is being field tested with medium power laser. Directed energy systems are primarily used for defence against drones and low altitude slow speed threats in the sky. We have acquired expertise in configuring; designing, integrating and testing ground based complex electro optical – laser systems for defence applications. We have to cover some ground in the area of high power lasers.

DRDO’s capital allocation is mere 6 per cent of the total defence budget and that also includes the cost of maintenance and other administrative expenditure, which is grossly inadequate. The Centre should treat DRDO as No. 1 priority. How do you look at the budgetary constraint? What would be grand allocation to sufficiently get the DRDO going high on multiple fronts?
We have been adequately supported by the Centre in our research and development activities. As you have rightly said, cutting-edge technologies are not available at any cost. They are acquired hard way through the persistent efforts of the scientific community of the country. The Centre is well awared. Whenever we approach for financial support, the response from the government is encouraging. We will put our best foot forward with the means provided.
 
It has been often debated the role of private companies in the defence & aerospace, but lack in investment? What would the DRDO do to make a big difference in handholding and providing labs and infrastructure to private players for let say testing? 
Industry has played a great role in the production of the DRDO developed products. We have developed a number of erstwhile normal fabricators into established aerospace manufactures now, with our technology inputs, hand holding and quality practices. Actually, the aerospace industry developed by us, is our strength. I have been saying in different forums that the DRDO will not enter and work where industry can develop products for defence forces. We would like to concentrate on futuristic and cutting-edge technologies, while meeting current demands of the tri services. We have thrown open our test facilities for the industry with reasonable charges. Let industry come out with reasonable proposals with investment, we will help with technology for the development of products.


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