The Indian Path to Weapons Development: A Key Role for DRDO


2014-01-19By Gulshan Luthra

New Delhi.

India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine Arihant should set sail for the sea in about a couple of months, possibly March.

According to Dr Avinash Chander, the country’s top scientist who heads the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the step-by-step powering of the onboard nuclear reactor to 100 per cent is carefully being done as the safety parameters are of top priority. The process is monitored 24 x 7 “as there is no compromise” on the safe operations of a nuclear reactor.

The reactor is powered in phases in well-established procedures, and once the nuclear scientists are satisfied, Arihant would move to the sea from its naval base in Vishakhapatnam.

Arihant’s reactor was activated – made critical in nuclear physics – in August and the vessel has cleared all Harbor Acceptance Trials (HATS).

In an interview with India Strategic, Dr Chander disclosed that the onboard weapons and nuclear missiles for Arihant were also ready; there would be firing tests with dummy warheads in due course. “All the weapons are ready.”

INS Arihant. Credit: India Strategic
INS Arihant. Credit: India Strategic

As the country’s premier defense research and development organization, and appropriately named so, DRDO efforts in building tactical and strategic missiles are already regarded as a big success.

From hand grenades to aircraft, missiles and Electronic Warfare systems, DRDO has many moments and miles already achieved to be proud of, and of course many moments and miles yet to look ahead.

Dr Avinash Chander acknowledged that it has often taken time to develop some items but pointed out that India does not manufacture every thing and there have been restrictions on supplies from abroad due to the missile and nuclear technology control regimes. Within India also, the decision-making processes are elaborate and time consuming.

But he shared another good news: two Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft developed by DRDO should be delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF) within six months, or mid-2014.

DRDO developed its own phased array radar, and has put in on board three Brazilian Embraer 145 aircraft. Two will be supplied to IAF, and one is being retained by it for further development of various systems.

“The aircraft has completed various flight evaluation trials, and the communication relays had been fully established and made operational.”

The aircraft are now under radar evaluation in the final tests, and should be ready for delivery in four to six months.

As for the delays, he pointed out that occasionally, DRDO scientists have had to fabricate components in-house, test them, and then install them in the desired system. That takes time.

But with the recent encouragement to the private sector, the country’s defense industrial infrastructure was set to grow rapidly and with that, the time-frame for development of various systems would also reduce.

Then there are many off the shelf components available form international markets, and DRDO uses them both because they are not made in India and easily available.

Every country today has to import something from another country due to the globalization of the economy.

In any case, DRDO is only a development agency. Once this is done, the product is handed over to the industry, which has then to give it the finishing touches and manufacture it.

Mr HK Dua, MP and Member of Parliament’s Defence Consultative Committee, observed that the country should be proud of the achievements of DRDO. There have been availability and technology constraints but DRDO has some tremendous milestones to its credit, not only in missiles but several other systems.

The fact that the Indian armed forces use DRDO-developed technologies on a routine basis, speaks volumes about the success of the DRDO equipment.

Dr Chander said that DRDO is now working on a spectrum of armed forces requirements from nuclear submarines to AEW (Airborned Early Warning) and AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) aircraft, UAVs, highly critical micro electronics used in all the high-end systems, special alloys, aircraft engines and their crystal blade technology, corner shot rifle, basic hand grenades, and even foods for difficult desert and mountainous terrain.

He emphasized that in the long history of DRDO since its inception in 1958, there have been many moments of both pride and frustration. But that is part of the process, particularly while developing military technologies.

DRDO now has 5000 scientists 25,000 scientific and support personnel, 50 laboratories engaged in aeronautics, armaments, electronics, combat vehicles, engineering systems, instrumentation, missiles, advanced computing and simulation, special materials, naval systems, life sciences, training, information systems and agriculture.

Self-reliance to the extent possible is the keyword in defense preparedness. That is what the Government wants and that is what needs to be done. Wars should not happen but they do. In case a war is thrust upon India, the public and private industry has to ensure continuous flow of various systems.

Dr Chander favoured FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) as it brings not only money but also several soft skills like quality assurance, quality management, efficient production processes and manufacturing technologies. He cited the example of Maruti cars and the automobile revolution in India in this perspective.

He also said India would welcome Indian scientists settled abroad to return home and work with the industry here to their choice. That would indeed help.

Dr Chander pointed out that in high volume basic requirements, some 80 percent of the requirements of the Indian defense forces are already met by systems developed by DRDO.

And some 65 per cent of Electronic Warfare systems manufactured by the state-run BEL (Bharat Electronics Ltd.) are based on DRDO designed technologies.

He disclosed that the special steel used on India’s nuclear submarine Arihant and the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, now named Vikrant, was developed by DRDO.

Earlier, this type of steel was imported in bulk from Russia. Special steels and alloys are a fundamental requirement in manufacturing many items, guns, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles included.

The hull of Vikrant has already been made and the ship has been launched into sea. But integration of various systems and internal fittings continues and the 40,000-ton vessel will be commissioned in 2017.

Republished by permission from India Strategic

Editor’s Note: The comments below were made in an Indian Strategic piece published in August 2013 at the time of the activation of the nuclear reactor on August 10, 2013:

India has a declared no-first use policy for nuclear weapons and having sea based capability to fire such weapons is necessary for a credible deterrence.

Dr Manmohan Singh expressed happiness at the nuclear propulsion reactor on board INS Arihant achieving “criticality” – or activation – and said he looked forward to early commissioning of the submarine.

Antony also congratulated defense scientists, personnel of Indian Navy and other organizations for activation of nuclear reactor and termed the step as a “very important milestone towards self-reliance in critical areas.”

Defence analyst Gulshan Luthra, who had broken the news of India’s first nuclear test, its location and withdrawal of Canadian nuclear assistance as the first international reaction in May 1974, described the development as a sign of near-maturity.

“We need to be members of nuclear and missile technology denial regimes, go in for four to five more SSBN (nuclear powered, nuclear armed) class submarines and also at least two or three large (60,000 tonnes-plus) nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The good thing is the government is working in these directions,” Luthra told IANS.