DRDO chief wants bigger R&D budget, 436 more scientists
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Sept 15
In New Delhi on Wednesday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar startled the defence industry by targeting the export of $1 billion (Rs 6,600 crore) worth of DRDO-developed indigenous defence equipment in two-to-three years.
This represents a ten-fold increase over current export levels. On November 28, 2014, the government revealed in parliament that defence exports were: Rs 512 crore in 2011-12; Rs 447 crore in 2012-13, and Rs 686 crore in 2013-14.
In 2014-15, exports are likely to be only marginally higher. On July 24, Minister of State for Defence, Rao Inderjit Singh, told parliament that exports during the year had included Cheetal helicopters and Stallion trucks to Afghanistan; a Dhruv helicopter and bullet proof jackets to Nepal; Dhruv helicopter spares to Ecuador; Sukhoi-30 avionics and MiG fighter and helicopter spares to Malaysia; hull mounted sonars to Myanmar, and other odds and ends.
The defence minister has often talked up the need for higher exports. He has told parliament that a “Defence Export Strategy has been formulated and put in public domain. The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for issuing NOC (no objection certificates) for export of military stores has been simplified and made online.”
At last year’s DRDO awards function, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called for empowering younger scientists, an implied criticism that led on in January to the removal from service of Dr Avinash Chander, the DRDO’s chief who had already received two service extensions.
This year, Parrikar fired a warning to the DRDO’s “cluster heads”, the seven director generals who direct R&D in the organisation’s seven technology verticals.
He said the cluster heads should “avoid duplication, or overlapping of activities by laboratories for greater economic efficiency”.
Parrikar went on: “Cluster in-charge has a very important role to play. They should not think, ‘This is my last two years, why should we speed up development’”.
Speaking before Parrikar, the DRDO chief, Dr S Christopher had asked the defence ministry to quickly approve the hiring of 436 more scientists, which the DRDO had requested. Noting that DRDO’s strength had remained stagnant since 2001, he said, “A top-heavy organisation with a narrow base is not appropriate.”
Christopher pointed out that the annual DRDO budget of five to six per cent of the defence allocation was inadequate for developing new equipment for the forces, when China was spending 20 per cent of its budget on R&D. He said that India’s military had so far ordered Rs 1,79,071 crore worth of equipment developed by the DRDO.
In a shot across the bows of the air force and the army, Parrikar pointed to the navy’s success in establishing a “close interface” with the DRDO. He called for a similar level of interface between the DRDO and the army and air force.
Christopher made an intriguing revelation while listing out the DRDO’s achievements during the year, mentioning the development of “air independent propulsion” (AIP) for submarines, which he revealed would soon be tested.
AIP is a state-of-the-art propulsion system that makes submarines quieter, and gives them longer endurance since they need not surface for as long as two weeks. In contrast, conventional diesel-electric submarines must surface far more often, since they require air to run their engines. When surfaced, they are vulnerable to detection.
The defence ministry is currently processing the acquisition of six AIP-equipped submarines under Project 75I. With the DRDO claiming to have developed AIP, it might well lobby for Project 75I vessels to have indigenous AIP.
Amongst the awards presented to DRDO laboratories and personnel was one for the successful design of the K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), with a range of 3,500 kilometres. This SLBM, which is being developed for India’s underwater nuclear deterrent, will replace the K-15 missiles that currently equips Arihant-class nuclear submarines. The K-15’s range is just 750 kilometres.
The longer range K-4 missile would add greatly to the survivability of Arihant-class submarines, which could fire them from longer ranges without needing to venture too close to enemy shores.