The new DRDO chief, Dr S Christopher (above); and Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri, Dr G Satheesh Reddy (left)
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th May 2015
In the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s first substantive move to galvanise the indigenous design and development of high-technology military systems, it has appointed on Thursday evening an unusually young, 52-year-old scientist, Dr G Satheesh Reddy as scientific advisor to the Raksha Mantri (SA to RM).
At the same time, Dr S Christopher was appointed to the post of Director General, DRDO (DG DRDO), and concurrently to the post of Secretary (Defence R&D).
This is the first time the government has, bifurcated these three posts, which have all been held by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief. In so doing, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has provided for himself a dedicated personal advisor on issues relating to technology.
“This is a good measure. When the DRDO recommends something, the defence minister will now have an advisor who can independently explain to him the pros and cons”, says a former DRDO chief, speaking anonymously.
DRDO scientists that Business Standard spoke to have expressed happiness at the bold selection of Reddy as SA to RM, even though he is the youngest of the DRDO’s twelve “distinguished scientists”, the senior most scientists’ grade.
“Reddy is not just a top technologist, but is also in touch with the younger DRDO scientists. This gives him a great perspective on issues relating to the organisation,” says a mid-ranking DRDO officer.
The new DRDO chief, Christopher, also brings to the office an impressive record of success. Currently heading the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bengaluru, Christopher has spent the last decade masterminding the project to develop an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system for the Indian Air Force (IAF). So far, India has been importing such systems.
The AEW&C consists of an airborne radar mounted externally on an Embraer executive jet. Currently at an advanced stage of testing, it will be used in wartime to monitor airspace and control the aerial battle, allowing air force controllers to digitally directing IAF aircraft against enemy aircraft that they detect.
Christopher, who is just short of 60 years, has been appointed for a period of two years to his two positions. Reddy has also been appointed SA to RM for two years, which positions him to be appointed DRDO chief after Christopher retires.
Christopher’s office in DRDO Bhavan has been vacant since February 1, when his predecessor, Avinash Chander, retired. Chander had been granted an 18-month extension on November 28, to head the DRDO till May 31, 2016. However that extension was withdrawn with effect from January 31.
While Christopher walks into an empty office, Reddy will have to create office infrastructure and a staff for himself. So far, the SA to RM has operated from DRDO Bhavan; now he will operate from an independent office in South Block.
The DRDO’s new chief faces significant challenges, given the “Make in India” rubric of the NDA government. Key projects with the DRDO include the Tejas Mark II fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun system, the Arjun Mark II tank, the Advanced Technology Vessel (nuclear submarine) and the AEW&C project.
The DRDO is also under pressure to restructure and become more task oriented, with recommendations still to be implemented from the Rama Rao Committee report.