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DRDO’s Light Tank Will Be Power Pack As “The Highest Altitude Operable Tank In The Globe”: G. Satheesh Reddy, Chairman DRDO

DRDO is tasked to empower India for building capability in defence –that not only limited to armed forces but it is now about technology for today and future which is foundational to growing defence economy. Last year, in the wake of precarious situation at LAC, despite the Covid 19, DRDO had some of the best moment of technological breakthrough with avant garde R&D, speedier trials and turnaround delivery so far. Besides such feet recently, It does get fair and unfair amount of criticism which it carries from the past record and legacy issues. In a first, Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Secretary DDR&D and Chairman DRDO speaks with Manish Kumar Jha on the entire gamut of current and futuristic projects that will be definitive for India in the world of defence, security and aerospace.

Photo Credit :

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Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Secretary DDR&D and Chairman DRDO

Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Secretary DDR&D & Chairman DRDO (R)

DRDO haas had some of the breakthrough moment in delivering and launching critical equipment for our Forces -- among the first few in technology space in the world? Could you talk about such DRDO project delivery under your leadership?

As the head of DRDO, the first big challenge undertaken was the anti-satellite (ASAT) mission and it was a great moment for the nation that we could successfully demonstrate ASAT capability during its maiden launch. India became the fourth nation in the world to showcase the direct hit of an (inactive) orbiting satellite. 

In 2020, DRDO has conducted 12 trials within six weeks. This includes MRSAM, HSTDV, Dhruvastra, QRSAM, Rudram, SMART, BrahMos, SANT, Prithvi-2, Nirbhaya Cruise Missile and the like. Trials of the Nirbhay cruise missile, Nag missile, man-portable anti-tank guided missile and other systems have been successfully conducted in the past one year.

We are in a phase of consolidation as well as expanding into futuristic technologies in defence research at DRDO. In last one year itself, five Astra missile systems were delivered to IAF, three sets of 10m Short Span Bridging system given to Indian Army, Indian Maritime Situational Awareness to Indian Navy, first Heavy Weight Torpedo Varunastra were handed over to Indian Navy while JVPC underwent the final phase of user trials. In addition, many systems have successfully undergone trials and are now ready to be inducted into the services. 

ABHYAS

At the same time, research and development has been initiated in areas of advanced technologies like quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, asymmetric technologies, advanced materials, sensors to make products with cutting-edge capabilities in defence. Defence technologies for space and cyber-security are other areas where we have started work in a big way. Work on indigenous air-independent propulsion systems is progressing well and is ready for deployment. 


When are we ready for India’s next gen fighter Jets - AMCA prototype and Tejas Mk 2 (Design and Development)?

Tejas MK-II program is in advance stages of development. After completion of aircraft PDR early last year, the detailed design activities are nearing completion. Manufacturing of long lead parts has already begun and the first prototype is on schedule for rollout in August 2022. Since there are very few unknowns in the programme, activities are moving rapidly. 

The configuration of AMCA is frozen and PDR of the configuration is completed. The detailed design activities have commenced and rollout of the first prototype is planned in first half of 2024. The production of AMCA is planned through an SPV which will have large participation from private industries in addition to HAL.

AMCA -ADA

 Indian industries are already participating in many development activities like manufacturing of a full-scale model for stealth measurement experiments.  


What is the status of jet engine/aero engine for such program? Are we exploring international collaboration with global OEMs for joint co-design and development?

For LCA Mk2, a bigger GE 414 engine is planned to be used and the test trials of the aircraft are expected to happen by 2022. While AMCA Mk-1 will have the same engine, the AMCA Mk-2 will have an indigenous engine. The LCA Mk-2 engine will be replaced with an indigenous one at a later stage. 

The aircraft is being designed such that the indigenous engine will fit with minimal changes in the configuration. Kaveri engine design has given enormous experience in various aspects of engine design & development. We are working out the collaboration with engine houses having complementary capabilities for making the new engine with in the country. We are getting closer to achieving the desired technology. We are also expecting international collaboration. 

The third new fighter jet that we are working on is the Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) for the Navy. The TEDBF is being developed to replace the Russian-made MiG-29K fighters in service with the Indian Navy. The jet will operate from the current and future aircraft carriers of Indian Navy. TEDBFs is planned to be inducted in service by 2032.


The budget allocated to DRDO remains as per the last year. In comparison with many emerging and advanced countries with their budget spent ~15-20 % on R&D in defence, India puts as low as about 6% of total defence budget. How does it affect the big-ticket research projects underway? What is expected in terms of budgetary allocations?

The defence budget has been increased to 4.78 lakh crore for the Financial Year 2021-22 (FY21-22), which includes capital expenditure worth Rs 1.35 lakh crore. It is nearly 19 per cent increase in defence capital expenditure. This is the highest ever increase in capital outlay for defence in last 15 years. 

The Capital allocation for DRDO has been increased to Rs 11,375.50 crore. This is an increase of 8 per cent over 2020-21 and 8.5 per cent over 2019-20. 

It was noted that 40% of DRDO’s budget is spent on maintenance and manpower, leaving a lesser margin for buying critical equipment, testing platforms and project development? What is your take in this?

With an increase of 8% in our budget this year, there is less likelihood of major shortage of funds for critical equipment. As much as 20 per cent of resources of each laboratory should be spent on research content of futuristic technologies and DRDO has been spending around 20-25 per cent of the budget on R&D. Human Resources are equally important. 


What stage of development are we as far as AIP systems are concerned for Indian Navy’s critical P75 project? This would be first such strategic partnership which MDL is responsible for submarine projects initiatives based upon AIP.

The DRDO developed indigenous AIP propulsion system is a modular system which can be easily configured for any conventional submarine platform. At present the system is configured for P75 submarines and has got the safety and interface acceptance and permission from the Submarine designer M/s NG France. The firm is to undertake the detailed design for its possible integration to the first available P75 platform. 

Regarding P75I as per IN request, initial level of interactions have been done with four foreign designers and preliminary interface requirements are obtained from three designers. The preliminary design of DRDO AIP system is studied and feasibility is established for integration of the same in all the three platforms proposed by the designers.

Accordingly, the preliminary design of DRDO AIP is forwarded to the designers. Further action from IN is awaited for next course of action. 

Fuel Cell AIP System by Naval Materials Research Laboratory, DRDO

Today DRDO launched Fuel Cell based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System which crosses important milestone.  AIP has a force multiplier effect on lethality of a diesel electric submarine as it enhances the submerged endurance of the boat, several folds. Fuel cell-based AIP has merits in performance compared to other technologies.

The system is being developed by Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL) of DRDO.

While there are different types of AIP systems being pursued internationally, fuel cell-based AIP of NMRL is unique as the hydrogen is generated onboard. The technology has been successfully developed with the support of industry partners L&T and Thermax. It has now reached the stage of maturity for fitment into target vessels.

Could you throw light on India’s next generation UAVs for our forces that might set benchmark capability?

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 II( Credit-DRDO)

Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) is working on UAV configurations. Our laboratories CAIR and R&DE(E) are working on autonomous technologies and development of various kinds of robots for multiple applications. DRDO young scientist laboratories are also working on the technologies required for UAVs and robotics. 

MALE UAV TAPAS BH-201 (Rustom II) programme has an operational range of 1000 km and payload capacity of 350 kg with an endurance of 24 hours at 30,000 ft altitude. It will carry variety of payloads such as Long Range Electro Optic (LREO) payload and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) MPAR, ELINT, COMINT, IFF, TCAS, UCR etc. depending upon the ISR mission requirements.

 Abhyas is an expandable aerial target for practice firing by Armed forces. It is being used for many SAM trials and has enormous potential for use for practice sessions. 


What is the USP of DRDO’s proposed light tank for the Indian Army and especially for the mountain corps? Any acceptance and delivery timeline if you could tell us?

The need of light weight tank is felt in today’s scenario especially for the mountainous regions. The configuration is worked out. 

The USP of DRDO’s proposed light tank for the Indian Army is that it will be fitted with High Altitude Operable Power pack (Engine + Transmission) of 1000hp and will be capable of firing multiple ammunition. This tank may be called as “highest altitude operable tank in the globe”.  The design work has commenced and we will bring out the timelines. 


Saras (crane) Mk1 multi-purpose light civilian aircraft, designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), which works closely with HAL, DRDO and the IAF--what is the case now?

This is not under the purview of DRDO, hence, I would not comment. 


Artificial Intelligence is the now hugely used in unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, the unmanned ground combat vehicle, the unmanned submersible systems. How India is developing. Should not we lead in such technology with our strong Informational Technology base?

In fact, the artificial Intelligence is set up in all of DRDo divisions as they are working on set of systems as varied as land, air and naval. I agree with you that we could have led on this front.


Besides donning leadership role as DRDO’s Chairman, foremost, you are India’s leading aerospace scientist. I would like you to tell us your vision for DRDO as it is to play very vital role in India’s development. Though credited, DRDO is also often criticised for being too large; deliberates and drags too much on unviable projects and sometimes too bureaucratic as a leading R&D organisation for 22nd century India? How do you bring change?

DRDO with its existing capabilities is poised to take up system development in the emerging dimensions of warfare and in the fields 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. Constructive criticism is welcome and we will continually strive to improve ourselves. Considering the number of systems and technologies that DRDO is working on, DRDO has optimally deployed its scientific manpower on important projects.