The DRDO’s new chief Dr Avinash Chander is right. He takes office at a time of perhaps never before activity in the organisation. Products and technologies seeded years ago will achieve maturity under his stewardship, and if everything goes well, most of those will enter operational service. In an exclusive interview to Headlines Today/Livefist, the DRDO chief exudes confidence. Refreshingly, it isn’t without caution and much-needed pragmatism.
“DRDO will have to scale itself up in a much much bigger way. That’s where we will have a lot of internal re-engineering and a new paradigm of technology development involving academics in a much much bigger way,” he tells me. “I see the next three-five years as a major milestone in DRDO. It’s the first time a whole series of equipment will be fielded out of DRDO to the customer.”
Dr Chander is keenly aware of the mindset battle he has before him. Armed forces have only tentatively begun to come around to indigenous equipment, as opposed to imports. “Aim is that products have to measure up to the user’s confidence level, which in turn should result in a change in mindset in the belief in our indigenous capabilities. That’s my topmost priority: to build confidence in our indigenous capability,” the DRDO chief says. He then lists out the product priorities:
“It starts the LCA, which is our topmost priority. In addition, we’ll see the Agni IV and V inducted in the next two years, the first time we will be inducting strategic missiles with such long ranges together. We are also completing the Arjun Mk.2, with about 100 improvements. It has become a real mean fighting machine, ready to go. The user wants everything integrated and the user will be carrying out the trials. Our joint ventures and joint developments on LRSAM, MRSAM will go into production in this period. The SR-SAM project (with MBDA of France) will get sanctioned, and within four years, we will get into the production of that.”
The inevitable question on private Indian industry comes up. As the spearhead of the Agni ballistic missile programme, Dr Chander has had a chance to work closely with private companies who build myriad systems on India’s strategic weapons. “The DRDO is at a turning point where we have to re-engineer ourselves for the future,” he says. “Indian industry is going to have a major role in the indegenisation process. For the first time I’m seeing the visibility of 75% indigenous content for our armed forces. I now feel confident we should be able to achieve that. As more investment comes into industry, programme and technology management skills will be a force multipler for DRDO. I have now a base where we can build much higher.”
It’s clear that the LCA occupies his mind more than anything else today, and rightly. “If I’m making an LCA, I have to design the computer, the actuators, practically everything in-house. But once this capability comes to industry, 50% of my load gets transferred to industry. I can find a value engineered product coming from industry. Time cycles will come down, quality will go up.”
It’s what Dr Chander says next that introduces a sense of promise to the new leadership at an organisation that’s floated through its history with sometimes ludicrous promises, often failing to deliver, and always with serious consequences to the Indian taxpayer. Under Dr Chander, hopefully, things could begin to change.