Dr G. Satheesh Reddy is presently the Chairman of the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) and Secretary Department of Defence Research & Development, Government of India. A distinguished scientist with numerous awards and honours to his credit, DRDO has been working aggressively under his leadership to conclude various development projects. Our Editor-in-Chief, Saurav Jha, had a freewheeling discussion with him about DRDO’s current activities on the occasion of India’s 72nd Republic Day.
Saurav Jha: Dr Reddy, could you talk a bit about the rationalization of establishments that is underway in your organization on account of the Ramagopal Rao Committee’s recommendations? Which laboratories have already been closed and where have their functions been absorbed?
Satheesh Reddy: Well, we have redefined or redrawn the charter of all our labs to ensure that they remain in line with upcoming technological requirements. We have also been rationalizing our laboratory eco-system in a manner that eliminates unnecessary overlaps. We have both merged and closed laboratories to this end. For instance, the Defence Terrain Research Laboratory has been merged with the Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment to form the Defence Geo Informatics Research Establishment. ANURAG has been closed and its cybersecurity and chip design capabilities have been assimilated by other laboratories. LASTEC has also been shuttered with most of its functions transferred to a laboratory in Hyderabad.
Saurav Jha: Speaking of chip design, the Society for Integrated Circuit Technology and Applied Research (SITAR) was set up with the objective of ‘design and development of strategic and security systems required mainly for DRDO’. What is the status of the two foundries controlled by SITAR? That is, GAETEC & STARC?
Satheesh Reddy: GAETEC now has the capability to develop MMICs across the full-frequency band. Whereas STARC now also has a packaging and testing facility in addition to a MEMS fabrication facility.
Saurav Jha: The Defence Minister recently inaugurated a Hypersonic wind tunnel at Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Missile Complex, Hyderabad. What was the capital expenditure on this facility and how long did it take to set up? Also, what else can we expect in terms of domestic wind tunnel capability development?
Satheesh Reddy: It has been set up at a cost of Rs 412 crores and has taken around 4 years to commission. A new national trisonic facility under the auspices of NAL is envisaged with support from both DRDO and ISRO.
Saurav Jha: Now, some of the most aggressive schedules are from your Missile and Strategic Systems (MSS) cluster. Let us therefore turn to the status of various products under development in this cluster. Firstly, please give us updates on various ground-based air defence systems currently under development viz. QRSAM, MRSAM (Air Force), MRSAM (Army) and LRSAM (Navy)? Also, what are the timelines for the Akash-NG, for which developmental trials are now underway?
Satheesh Reddy: The developmental trials of the QRSAM are complete. It has begun user trials and as part of that mobility trials are currently underway. As you know, this system can track while on the move and launch interceptors from a short halt. We expect induction to happen in 2022.
As far as the MRSAM (Air Force) is concerned, the first production set will be delivered in a couple of months with an additional set being delivered every 3 months subsequently. There’ll be some operational flight tests before delivery.
MRSAM (Army) has begun developmental trials and we expect the final set to be delivered to the user by 2023-24.
Meanwhile, only two LRSAM sets are left to be delivered to the Navy.
As you mentioned, developmental trials for the Akash NG have commenced. These will be followed by user trials and the system is expected to go into production by 2023. The Akash NG is equipped with a Ku-band seeker and is propelled by a solid-fueled dual-pulse motor.
Saurav Jha: The MSS cluster has also become very active in the arena of air-delivered munitions. One noteworthy development in this arena is of course the Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon (SAAW). When will the SAAW be inducted and will future versions be equipped with an Imaging Infrared (IIR) seeker?
Satheesh Reddy: The SAAW is headed towards induction this year. The next version will indeed be equipped with an IIR seeker and will begin developmental trials next year. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will be the production agency for the SAAW.
Saurav Jha: Another important air-to-ground system that has been under development is the New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile (NGARM) or the Rudram-1. What is the status of the same? Have typical developmental challenges related to materials and multi-layer bonding for the radome been overcome?
Satheesh Reddy: Yes, they have been overcome. And the Rudram-1 is slated for induction next year with both passive homing head as well as a MMW seeker.
Saurav Jha: Turning to beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs). Would you like to comment on the status of various Astra BVRAAM family variants?
Satheesh Reddy: Astra MK1 has been inducted into the IAF. Astra MK2 is headed for development-cum-user trials, which will pave the way for its induction next year. The Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet -based Astra Mk3 will enter the developmental trials’ stage next year.
Saurav Jha: Speaking of ramjets, what is the status of the 350 mm liquid fuel ramjet (LFRJ) under development? What is it intended to power?
Satheesh Reddy: Its trials will happen in the not too distant future. It will be used to propel a supersonic target.
Saurav Jha: This year’s Republic Day parade saw DRDO’s various anti-tank guided missiles being displayed prominently. In that context, what is the status of each of the systems displayed during the parade i.e. the NAG, the HELINA, the Man-portable Anti-tank Guided Missile (MPATGM), Standoff Anti-tank (SANT) and the Canon Launched Guided Missile (CLGM)?
Satheesh Reddy: NAG has been cleared for production awaiting orders. HELINA user trials will commence in February 2021. SANT is headed for final developmental trials this year. MPATGM is currently at the user trial stage. CLGM should complete all trials by 2022.
Saurav Jha: In the past decade, DRDO’s Research Centre Imarat (RCI) has progressed steadily in the field of interferometry. Given that background, what is the status of Hemispherical Resonator Gyroscope (HRG) development at RCI?
Satheesh Reddy: It is continuing apace. The first HRG for tactical applications is actually set to be delivered this year.
Saurav Jha: Dr Reddy, it has been observed, that of late the developmental timelines for DRDO’s missile projects have reduced considerably as compared to the past. What do you think has changed?
Satheesh Reddy: It’s simple really. This is what happens when you reach maturity in various areas related to missile projects from propulsion to sensors. We now have strong teams with the requisite pedigree and developing any kind of missile is not much of an issue for DRDO anymore. We have also been making changes on the administrative side of things and this is epitomized by the new Procurement Manual i.e. PM-2020. For instance, today online procurement of up to 20 lakhs for components or sub-systems has been authorized. Very importantly, we have now put in place a system where we can proceed for development with the second lowest qualified bidder (L2) for a project, in the event that the lowest bidder (L1) bows out for whatever reason/ is unable to execute without the need to initiate a new tender. L2 will of course have to match the L1 rate and terms & conditions.
Saurav Jha: Finally, what is the latest on the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) front i.e. Project AD?
Satheesh Reddy: Development of Phase-I of the BMD programme is complete.
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