Ramana: Sure. Like to highlight some aspects.
Am glad M. Natarajan gives an insight to huge effort and expense that goes to Strategic weapons in DRDO. One will not be surprised to know that the same is true of DAE/BARC and Services. That is where there should be no quarters left that undermines "Credible deterrence". I must say that DRDO has acquitted well in this respect.
The DRDO is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. What is its road map, say, for the next 25 years?
The DRDO is one arm of the Ministry of Defence devoted to science and technology development. We get a small portion of the defence budget, which is at present around 6.13 per cent. What is not known to many is that 40 per cent of the DRDO’s budget goes towards the development of strategic systems, essential for the country to maintain the requisite balance in defence preparedness. Close to a third of our budget goes towards salaries, infrastructure and training. So what most people know about the DRDO is based either on an appreciation or depreciation of one-third of our budget, spent on the development of the tactical systems for our armed forces.
Also no matter the jet engine mess LCA is central technology and weapons system for India. It IS
the platform that will take India to UCAV. Clearly see that 5th Gen fighter and MCA will be compatible and symbiotic platforms.
So, if one looks at just this spectrum of vehicles, five in number, I see a good potential to build all together, about 1,000 aircraft, over a period of time. The LCA could be 400 in number for the IAF, 100 for the Navy; the trainer could be 150; the medium combat aircraft 250; and 100-150 for the UACVs.
Since the design is ours, with a largely open architecture system, we have the comfort of adding values in avionics, radar systems, control and guidance systems as we go along, besides making improvements in the materials for construction, particularly in composites and the manufacturing processes thereof.
What do you have to say to the criticism of time and cost overruns in several projects?
Let me be frank. If you look at most of our developmental programmes, I agree that we have taken two or three-fold more time than envisaged. But during the same period, there has been a continual upgrading of technology. The difficulty was that because of the delay, there was a moving goalpost. But while trying to reach the moving goalpost, we tried to upgrade the technology.
The problem was that for these first-off systems, the technology readiness level was inadequate and certain technologies had to be concurrently developed. This is true of any country that ventures to build systems for the first time.
Most people take note of a numerically quoted figure of the project value and the start date, a closing figure and a closing date, and try to decode a multiplication factor thereof, and say that the project cost had gone up by so many times. This is a simplistic way of passing judgement that does not speak the truth.
This one is a gem:
We have reasons to believe that our amortisations are pitifully low compared to many countries in the development arena. For example, if you take the INSAS [Indian National Small Arms System] rifle developed by the DRDO, about a million rifles have been produced until now. We spent less than Rs.20 crore to perfect it.
Rs.20 crore in modifying it?
No. It was the project cost. That is all. But we gave a production worth more than Rs.2,500 crore. What was amortisation [in this]? Just 1 per cent. Even if you take Arjun – I am deliberately quoting two extreme-end projects – we spent less than Rs.400 crore on its development. In a country that ends up building just 300 of these tanks – not a big number – you are talking of a production turnover close to Rs.5,000 crore. For a product [Arjun] of such complexity, its amortisation was ridiculously low.
Likewise, take the LCA, its project cost today is close to Rs.6,000 crore. Even if you spend another Rs.1,000 crore for adding some developmental entities, it will be Rs.7,000 crore. If you build 400 aircraft, – an aircraft today costs Rs.150 crore – it equals Rs.60,000 crore. The amortisation is just about 10 per cent. Worldwide, it is more than 25-30 per cent. Besides, the unit cost of any indigenously developed product is invariably favourable compared with the cost of any individual, imported equipment.
I want to assure you that while the DRDO will take its share of blame – it is not the only entity to be blamed – there are others in the decision-making process. Yet, I would not wish to pass on the blame to them. I take the blame for the delay but we are giving products at a reasonable cost and they can be sourced at economical prices.
The biggest deluge of future weapons products will IMHO come from India producing RLG in mass qty. That one component made cheap will allow slew of smart weapons like long range gliding bomb (work is in progress), bunker bursting guided sub-munition (air/missile delivered, or ground launched Nag derivative), guided rockets (future to Pinaka), Hand launched small-airplane that work like Harpy (Death dancing overhead).
The DRDO has come of age in missile development. How do you assess the success of the underwater missile Sagarika, the interceptor missile, Agni-II, Agni-I and Agni-III, Prithvi, Akash, Nag and BrahMos?
To the outside world, they may look like sudden successes. But there are no instant successes in a scientific activity. It is sustained effort and commitment in different disciplines that go into the integration of a missile, which has culminated in the success of a number of missile systems.
Many elemental technologies that go into missiles, such as propulsion systems, airframe design, navigation, command and control systems, guidance systems, warheads and re-entry where applicable – all have reached a maturity for a given design and for the level of technology that we have planned so far. They have been integrated into successful systems. It is like a perfect meal…. It is difficult to describe whether these missions are entirely scientific or partly art.
The challenge now will be to take forward the technological gains by making improvements in each elemental technology, which will cumulatively give us advantages in terms of longer-range, lesser-weight, more-efficient propulsion, compact and reliable margins and so on. I am sure that all this will happen in the coming decade with newer seekers, fibre optics, ring-laser gyros, light-weight, high-strength materials, and polymeric materials in propulsion systems.
The RF Tx-Rx module based radar development is another big thing for Indian defense. Not only for AESA/AEW&C but for missile defense (ballistic and cruise), and network centric aerial platforms.