DRDO gets into action mode

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Published: August 15, 2016 6:33:43 AM

The technology spectrum under the DRDO banner might be wide-ranging and versatile, but a number of its key projects are mired in delays and cost overruns. Getting its act together, the defence research agency is now keeping a hawk’s eye on all projects to ensure delivery on time

Perturbed over Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) inability to meet deadlines for key projects that often lead to huge cost overruns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last year urged the organisation to ensure delivery on time. The defence research agency, headed by S Christopher, is now keeping a hawk’s eye on all projects that have been delayed for long periods of time. The value of systems, products and technologies developed by DRDO and inducted into the armed forces or in the process of induction stands at over R1,90,000 crore.

DRDO has designed and developed a large number of products and systems for defence forces. These include combat vehicles, missiles, multi-barrel rocket launcher, unmanned aerial vehicles, radars, electronic warfare systems, sonars, torpedos, communication systems, cyber systems etc. Many of the products, originally developed for defence forces, can also be used by state police forces in addition to other agencies, like NDRF. The ministry of home affairs has also shortlisted about 146 items for trials, out of which trials of 78 products have already been completed.

Getting into action mode, an indigenous heavyweight torpedo called Varunastra, developed by Naval Science and Technological Laboratory of the DRDO, has been inducted by the Indian Navy. Weighing around 1.25 tonnes, the torpedo carries about 250 kg of explosives at a speed of around 40 nautical miles an hour. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, when handing over the torpedo to the Indian Navy in June, asked the DRDO to do “hand-holding” for the Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) which will be manufacturing the torpedo. India is among a group of elite nations which have the capability. Project director for Varunastra torpedo P Trimurthulu termed it a huge success for the team which had been working on the project for the past decade. The torpedo, which has already been test-fired from ships, will soon be fired from a submarine.

Last month saw the induction of two indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas—after a delay of almost three decades—at a ceremony at IAF’s Aircraft Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) in Bengaluru. Tejas is a 4th generation fighter aircraft which can carry air to air missiles, air to ground rocket/missiles/ anti-ship missiles/laser guided bombs and conventional bombs. Tejas has been developed in the country after a technology gap of around two decades of HF Marut by DRDO. Its development by LCA (Tejas) team at ADA, an autonomous society of DRDO is unique in the light of the fact that there was no infrastructure base and negligible technological base available in the country for
undertaking development of a modern combat aircraft.

Moving further, DRDO is in the process of developing a niche technology, called the air independent propulsion (AIP) technology, that will enable future Indian-built submarines to stay underwater for longer periods. The agency’s Ambernath-based Naval Material Research Laboratory (NMRL) is working on a technology demonstration project for development of a land-based prototype for AIP for submarine propulsion. With the AIP, the vulnerability of a submarine for detection by enemy warships can be reduced by increasing its underwater
endurance in dived conditions.

Normally, diesel electric generators are used by conventional submarines to charge its batteries that provide propulsion power when the submarine is in dived conditions. To run the generators, the submarine has to surface for taking in air and throwing out the exhaust. Using the AIP system, a submarine can charge batteries without surfacing. The Naval Material Research Laboratory is developing two different types of fuel cells for the AIP operation of diesel electric submarines PAFC (phosphoric acid fuel cell) for major use and PEMFC (polymer electrolyte fuel cell) for minor use.
Says Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, “We are making our own AIP (air independent propulsion) indigenous system with DRDO. At present, project definition is going on. Prototypes based plant is being constructed and once it is ready, it will be fitted in the Kalvari-class submarines.”

The changing nature of warfare has necessitated development of weapons suitable for use in urban or confined environment where target defeat can be achieved without undue collateral damage. In this scenario, military forces world over are looking for ammunition which is insensitive in nature with target specific warheads and improved delivery systems. In line with these requirements, HEMRL (another lab of DRDO) has developed the technology of thermobaric explosives which is a critical milestone in the path to development of advanced futuristic weapon systems.

Thermobaric explosives (TBE) classified as enhanced blast explosives are one of the recent advances in the field of high explosives. TBE technology gained interest due to the changing nature of modern day warfare where combatants are frequently fighting from caves, tunnels, bunkers, vehicles and multi-room structures in urban environments. Conventional explosives designed to produce high blast overpressure and fragmentation effects have limitations in defeating targets in hard enclosed spaces like tunnels or caves.

Among others, the PINAKA weapon system is another feather in the DRDO’s cap. Developed in India, it has multi-barrel rocket launcher for twelve rockets in two pods that can be fired simultaneously. Then, there is the main battle tank Arjun mark II, which today boasts of the state-of-the-art technology incorporated into it had to overcome a lot of hurdles before achieving many progressions, including 15 enhancements.

It has a combat weight of 62 tonnes (fully loaded and can move at 60 km/hour on road with 1400 horsepower engine. With a smart rate of firepower 6 to 8 rounds per minute, its potency is boosted with missiles automatic target tracking and maximised penetration characteristics. It is equipped with advanced land navigation system and enhanced night vision capabilities too.

Besides developing advanced radar systems for battlefield surveillance, 3D low-level light-weight radar and maritime patrol airborne radar, DRDO has developed and inducted a troop-level radar for Akash weapon system, which is the air defence system for the Indian army. It has the capability to perform extensive search, track multiple targets and missiles and to command and guide own multiple missiles concurrently.
Without doubt, DRDO has been making all possible efforts in making the country self-reliant in the defence sector.

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