|Dr. W. Selvamurthy, DRDO
Many western countries, pioneer in critical technology are pushing India for collaboration today. Recession has forced many such western countries to slash their investment in science and technology (S&T) for defence research. Their priority now is economic development. When their investment in S&T research is declining, India is investing hugely in this area, particularly in defence R&D. These countries see an opportunity to share critical technology with India. Over a period of time, India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation ( DRDO) has developed certain strength in defence R&D which is admired world over.
Distinguished defence scientist and Chief Controller, R&D (Life Sciences and International Co-operation) of DRDO, Dr. W. Selvamurthy in an interview, highlights the progress made by DRDO in the international co-operation to master critical technology.
Q Dr. Selvamurthy, we see DRDO has signed agreements with many countries to collaborate in critical technologies. There was a time when these countries were not even willing to dialogue with India on this issue. How has this positive change come today?
W.S.: Many European countries are cutting down their expenditure in R&D. Particularly, in defence R&D there is lot of slash. It is a global scenario. For them the priority is economic development whereas in India, the Science & Technology (S&T) investment is going up. For example, now it is one percent of the GDP. Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said, it should become 2 percent to 2.5 percent in next six years. Here it is upward investment and in west it is downward investment. Similarly, in DRDO our budget is going up in R&D itself. Now we are launching major programs. Some are of Rs.seven thousand crores, some are of ten thousand crores of Rupees. We are heavily investing in R&D and trying to reach self reliance in critical areas.
DRDO, in the last fifty years, has developed a great strength which is being respected at global level. Be it missile, aeronautics, armaments, combat vehicles, electronic warfare, combat vehicles, material, naval system, NBT and life support, we have developed our strength. Globally there is great appreciation for the strength DRDO has developed for the country in such a short period of time. In the globalised world strength respects strength. If you are strong other fellow will respect you, otherwise, nobody will bother. If he is going to gain something from you, he is going to talk to you. It is a business world, globalised business world. Now, if people are coming talking to us seeking collaborations, seeking business, it indicates certainly the global interest in India and Indian science and technology. Particularly, DRDO in defence related science and technology in the last couple of years has certainly gone up and which is visible also.
Now collaboration proposals are coming from other countries where they want to partner with India. To start with developed country like U.S. With U.S. we have two levels of interaction, one is Defence Policy Group and the other is Joint Technical Group.
We have these two levels in which DRDO interacts with U.S.. So it is a common forum, government to government MoD of ours with DoD of U.S.. one is policy, strategy, operational that is chaired by our defence secretary and co-chaired along with equivalent person, a secretary level person there in U.S. Then we have another level, the Joint Technology Group, which is chaired by DRDO and co-chaired by a representative from Pentagon, which I co-chair and co-chaired by Mr.Volkman, under secretary of state. Once the meeting takes place in India and next time the meeting takes place in U.S., so we keep changing the venue.
Earlier the collaboration with U.S. used to be only in soft areas like- life science which is not a hard core critical technology. We have another collaboration in material sciences. So we have graduated from soft end area to critical areas including, from ground penetration radar, hyper laser, and we have started interacting with them on high power microwave. Our collaboration with U.S. in critical areas is now expanding.
There is a very positive approach from the U.S. to collaborate with India. There is a paradigm shift which indicate U.S. is keen to collaborate in with India in R&D with DRDO in areas like- Light Combat Vehicle (LCA) for example. They are keen to collaborate in the LCA Mach-2. We are asking for optical landing system. So, what I want to convey is that, there is paradigm shift in U.S. attitude towards collaboration with DRDO in critical technology areas.
Currently there are more than ten information exchange agreements that are very active in different areas including coastal surveillance area, energy sector, armed forces, advance material, radar etc.. Meetings and workshops are taking place.
There are two ongoing collaborative projects in nanotechnology, nanomaterials areas, project agreements, two of them are being implemented with DRDO labs on nanotoxicity. When you develop a nanomaterial, its toxicity has to be evaluated. Part of it is done in U.S. and part of it is done in DRDO laboratories. Then we sit together and exchange the data. So there are two project agreements which are being implemented.
Now that DRDO is removed from the entity list, this has opened up many industries to partner with DRDO, otherwise, there used to be lot of barriers, even sending a quotation for a DRDO lab used to have lot of barriers when DRDO was in the entity list . From the entity list all the other 48 DRDO labs are out except four. DRDO wants these four labs also to be removed from the entity list. Still it is a very good gesture from U.S. government to open up that collaborative R&D in critical areas. Industry-industry laboratory collaboration will also happen. New change that has occurred has facilitates us freely discuss with the industries there. Like for example- Raytheon, General Dynamics, General Electrics, Lockheed Martin etc.. Now the industries are coming to collaborate with us not just for selling, but collaborative R&D in defence. This is another thing which happened with regard to U.S.
With Russian we have very strong on going partnership. For example, BrahMos cruise missile, which is a joint venture and collaborative R&D we have. Missiles are the one, we are strongly interacting with them.
Kaveri engine testing, both the high altitude test and flying test bed is taking place there on IL-76 in which they have done 57 hours of testing in Russia. The other areas in which we are collaborating with Russia are- material testing, seekers for missiles, gyro etc.. These are all critical areas. These kind of collaboration and partnership with Russia is going on.
We have a forum called ‘Indo-Russia inter-governmental R&D forum’. With Russian company, Rusnano, we are discussing about collaboration in nanotechnology. Rusnano is an industry promoting nano industry. Russian government has also invested lot of money into this. We have also developed some core strength in nanotechnology.
With France, we have a very strong collaboration and we have a forum similar to Joint Technology group with the U.S. It is called IFR-Indo-France Research Forum. In one area we are looking for collaboration with France is in the area of Snecma- Kaveri engine. For Kaveri aircraft engine, today we have reached 70 kilonewtons thrust in the aircraft which has flown 57 hours in flying test bed successfully without any problem.
For the development of Kaveri engine, it is not that they will develop it for us but their and our scientists will work together and develop it.
Q.What is the deficiency now in Kaveri and what steps are being taken to remove it?
W.S.: You know, LCA was designed to be a lighter aircraft but now with all these increased operational requirements, the weight has gone up. Because of this, the flight envelop and the G which it had to pull and the thrust engine had to develop is to be augmented. Now we have achieved 70 kN (kilonewtons) of thrust. To cover up the complete flight envelop which was required for the operational requirement, we need more than 80 kN thrust, around 85 kN thrust.
With France these are the two areas, one is Snecma –Kaveri engine and the other is short range surface to air quick reaction missile. For Snecma-Kaveri engine, we are negotiating for increasing the thrust of Kaveri engine from today’s level of 70 kN to what is required is 80-85 kN thrust. (In the mean time the American GE-414 engine to be used in LCA has about 90 kN thrust and after five years when Snecma -Kaveri engine is developed, it will also have the same thrust.) Then we will not require GE-414 for LCA but we require certain numbers of GE engines as Kaveri is under development. For which orders have been placed for GE engines, they are required and procurement option will take place. But then the engines have to be retrofitted after some time. After 5000 hours we will take out these engines for servicing and we will replace with new engines.
Q. When Kaveri engine is developed and ready to be fitted in LCA, will you need to modify the air frame of the aircraft for this?
W.S.: There is no problem in fitting the engine in the LCA, mainly the thrust that has to pull the G and flight envelop, that requires 85 to 90 kN thrust and we have achieved 70 kN thrust and with Snecma we can achieve it faster.
Short range surface to air missile: The other areas we are collaborating with France is in the area of short range surface to air missile (SRSAM). It is also being negotiated which will be 3 to 15 k.m. range.
Q. How this French SRSAM will be different from our Akash missile?
W.S.: This will be quick reaction missile. It will be used on both land and sea by the army and the navy. It is a regular missile with short range. So we have all ranges covered including up to five thousand kilometers. We have short range medium range, long range and interceptor missiles. We are covering the complete range. The LRSAM and MRSAM we are developing with the Israeli collaboration. International cooperation in missile development has achieved a new dimension with development with deliverable. With France these are the two major programmes-
Snecma -Kaveri and SRSAM we are working on.
With Israel, we have two levels of management as we have with U.S. One is secretary level Joint Management Council which the defence secretary chairs and the other is Indo-Israeli Management Council. We are collaborating in the critical areas like missiles-LRSAM, MRSAM, land systems. electronic warfare equipments and armament which is again a critical area.
With Germany, we have been depending on Germany’s MTU industry for battle tank engines. We are collaborating for our MBT programme with MTU, Germany.
With Brazil we have partnership in Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C). We have ordered three aircraft. First one is going to fly on December, 7. The original passenger Embraer aircraft are modified in Brazil according to our requirements. Work such as putting the radar dome on top and additional auxiliary power units is done there. Now we will do the necessary system integration here in Bangalore. The radar to be used in the AEW&C is indigenous. We have given them some dummy systems. All electronics and sensors will be integrated at Centre for Airborne Systems ( CABS), Bangalore.
Second and third aircraft will fly by March 2012 and July 2012 respectively.
We will hand over two indigenous AEW&C to the Indian Air Force by April 2013 and the third aircraft will remain with DRDO for further R&D. These aircraft have air to air refueling capability so range is no issue.
We have opened up some collaboration with Canada also. Recently, with the York University we have firmed an agreement in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence. One important area in which we want to collaborate is to develop photonic sensor which can detect the chemical weapon or any chemical agent. Suppose, in the air handling unit, suddenly you have chemical agent coming which should be detected at the duct itself and the filters should come out immediately, like in malls, where lot of people are there- in conventional sensors, it takes minimum 10 to 15 seconds for detection and subsequent response by the filter mechanism to come up.
We are developing a sensor which can detect the chemical agent in three seconds, to actuate the filter in another 5 to 6 seconds and neutralize the toxic gas and throw it out. This system we are developing with the York University, Canada. We have already developed a prototype.
The other project we are collaborating with Canada is small satellite launcher to launch small satellites on demand. We have started a dialogue in this direction. Implementation may be with ISRO.
For basic developmental aspect we are dialoguing with York University, McGill University and Saskatchewan University, three of them, but they will collaborate with York Universisity . We have signed one agreement under which these three universities will cooperate. For net centric operations, we need such small satellites.
Another area in which we want to collaborate with Canada is nanofoundry for large scale nanomaterial production. They have developed nanophotonic facility which we visited. We may take their consultancy or we may even give them a turn-key project for nanofoundary. The cost will be of the order of 500-600 hundred to one thousand crores of rupees.
With United Kingdom we have signed an agreement recently. There are lot of changes happened in their R&D set up. Like DRDO, they used to have initially a Defence Evaluation Research Agency (DERA), then they privatizes, part of it was under the government, now they have (Defence Science Technology Laboratories(DSTL). Recently SA to RM signed an LoA with Mark Welland, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom.
All this happened recently. Most of these countries are willing to partner with DRDO. That’s a great change.
Q. But how these countries will be benefited by such partnership with DRDO?
W.S.: Their investment in defence research is declining because of recession. These countries are cutting down their expenditure in R&D, particularly defence R&D there is lot of slash. It is a global scenario. For them, the priority is economic development, whereas in India, the Science & Technology (S&T) investment is going up. For example, one percent of GDP, now the Prime Minister has said it should become 2 percent to 2.5 percent in next five to six years. Here it is upward investment, there it is downward investment. Similarly, in DRDO our budget is going up in R&D itself. Now we are launching major programs. Some are of seven thousand crores, some are of ten thousand crores rupees. We are heavily investing in R&D, trying to reach self reliance in critical areas.
The second change occurred here in India is directed research investment in Universities, IIT and College of Engineering. DRDO, Atomic Energy, Space, CSIR- we are directing them to do directed basic research which is happening now. If you have to have leadership role, you should have futuristic technology. That strength is increasing in India now. The third change is, the industry in now investing in R&D. Private industries like-L&T, Tata, Mahindra, Reliance- all these are investing in R&D. Earlier it was hundred percent investment by the government but today the private sector is investing in R&D. Fourth, the defence industry strength in itself is going up. So these countries have seen the strength in the industry is going up. This drives these nations to partner with DRD. They have the guarantee of the Indian market. Then, indigenization and self reliance being the mantra here, so they partner with India.
Q. What about the core technology like metallurgy, no country is willing to share technology with us. How are you addressing this issue?
W.S.: For this, we are setting up a centre in Belarus- Centre for Advance Material. A ground centre, only for advance material, is opened in Belarus. A proposal has been formulated which they have agreed. This will develop material like- high energy material, high temperature tolerance material for aircraft for example, blades of engine, and also, new material, smart material, special steel for ship building, space ship material. For new material, Belarus is willing to collaborate with us. An agreement has been signed and we are going to invest there.
Benefits of foreign collaborations
The growing international co-operation will speed up science and technology growth in India, particularly in the field of defence R&D. International community is cooperating with India because they have trust in us. Otherwise, they would not even dialogue with us in critical areas. The international co-operation, I see, is going to speed up the science and technology in the country, particularly, in the field of defence R&D. It will also improve their capability.
With U.S. we have an agreement for Naval Post Graduate School (NPGL), U.S. for our DIAT (Defence Institute of Advance Technology) our deemed University for academic collaboration in critical areas.
In the globalised world our technology has to be very competitive. India alone can also achieve over a period of time, gradually struggling like what DRDO has done, with minimum cooperation from the outside world because they were not willing to even listen to us for collaborations, but today they are pushing us for collaboration. Today we have many opportunities and by collaborating with advanced countries, we can speed up the pace of R&D in the country. Second, now since our defence industries have developed the capability to absorb the technology, lot of product upgrade can come from our defence industry. We would like product upgrade to come from our defence industries. Third thing, the private sector is going to come in the defence industry. It is will happen, even though it has not happened in a big way now but there is a trend. So the collaboration with other industries will happen. Many industries are now partnering with our industries in defence sector. That will also increase once you have R&D input going up because that industry alone may not have capability to absorb so they may pass some to DRDO and take some niche areas where they need some guidance, advice, consutancy or some support which DRDO will provide.
I see a scenario where there will be lab to lab collaboration, lab to industry collaboration, DRDO lab to industry collaboration and from industry to industry from private sector as well as public sector. So all these are the possibilities with our international collaboration.