Dr VK Saraswat, who has been appointed as a full-time member of the NITI Udyog (the revamped Planning Commission), has been one of the most high profile and successful DRDO chiefs in recent times. From the time he joined the DRDO in 1972, he has been associated with almost unbroken success in his field of specialization, missile propulsion.
As a member of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s handpicked team that worked on the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, Saraswat played a key role in developing a series of missiles at a time when India faced tight international technology sanctions. He was closely involved in developing the Prithvi ballistic missile; and each of the five Agni missiles that now form the backbone of India’s land-based nuclear deterrent. While Saraswat worked on propulsion systems, his contemporary and successor as DRDO chairman, Dr Avinash Chander, fashioned their guidance systems. They remain closely associated, suggesting that the DRDO might have a useful ambassador in the Planning Commission.
Saraswat was also instrumental in modifying existing DRDO missiles into a controversial, but apparently effective, anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that seeks to defend Indian cities by shooting down incoming nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Saraswat’s frequent public statements on the ABM system have been criticized for destabilising deterrence in South Asia.
Within the DRDO, Saraswat remains a hard-driving legend who is renowned for apparently endless reserves of energy. This, perhaps, has also led him into controversy, with the Madras High Court awarding him a three-week jail term for contempt of court in September. Saraswat had refused to implement a court order to appoint someone to a DRDO post.
Saraswat, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, obtained his M.Tech from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Ph.D. from Osmania University. He was awarded a Padma Shri in 1998 and Padma Bhushan in 2013. He retired from the DRDO on May 31, 2013.