Under the DRDO policy, 88 military equipment-making projects are in the pipeline, including some a few steps away from being formally inducted into the forces

AT the end of April this year, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) was firing away at the Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan amid temperatures touching 50ÂșC. It was a ‘summer’ trial to judge the performance of the guns after the ‘winter’ trial in December last year.

Designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured in two separate versions by Tata and Bharat Forge, the ATAGS is among the 88 projects that come under the Development-cum-Production Partner (DCPP) policy.

Under this, DRDO transfers documents, drawings and design to the industry, which is tasked to make a prototype and is further helped across trials and tests done by the armed forces. It’s a growing success story within the wider ambit of Atmanirbharta (self-reliance) in military-equipment making. The DRDO remains a designer while the industry — public and private — is a partner for manufacturing, hence hastening the process.

The Long And Short of It

The ATAGS, having the ability to hit targets 48 km away, is the first Indian-designed and manufactured artillery gun. It is a few steps away from being formally inducted into the Army. Dhanush, an artillery gun made by the Ordnance Factory Board inducted in 2018, is based on a design of the Bofors gun inducted from Sweden in 1987.

Light tanks are being made in partnership by L&T and the first one could be ready for trials soon. The Wheeled Armoured Amphibious Platform (WhAP) designed by DRDO for carrying troops is being made by Tata. The first such unit was handed in April to the Indian Army, which is looking for 500 such vehicles for use in the Himalayas.

Among the missiles, the Very Short Range Air Defence (VSHORAD) has been tasked to Adani group, the long-range guided air-launched bombs are being made by Bharat Forge, the ‘guided’ Pinaka missile and grenades are being made by Economic Explosives Ltd, based in Nagpur.

On the long list are Automatic Chemical Agent Detector & Alarm (ACADA) and Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), which has undergone third party evaluation by an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons designated laboratory located in the Netherlands.

Hand-held radars to look through walls, unmanned ground vehicles, counter-drone systems, extreme cold weather clothing are all being made under such tie-ups, while existing technology to make warship-grade steel is being shared with industrial partners.

The DRDO-IIT Delhi collaboration has developed two versions of a bulletproof jacket for troops which can withstand steel core bullets of AK-47 and bullets of self-loading rifles and sniper rifles like Dragunov.

PSUs Continue On Big Tech

Technologies like fighter jet, its design and engine have been kept within the public sector. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is working on the design of the next generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and also the naval fighter jet. The HAL would be the front-runner for a joint venture in making jet engines. Bharat Dynamics Limited is making missiles while ‘seekers’, which guide a missile to its pinpoint destination, are indigenous.

The DRDO-made medium altitude drone ‘Rustom II’ is capable of flying at 28,000 feet and for 18 hours. “It has been tested for these parameters,” says DRDO chairman Dr G Satheesh Reddy. The drone so far is capable of surveillance and does not carry weapons.

Role of The Academia

Funding is being done by the DRDO for research and collaboration with the academia and industries for defence application, and having outcomes relevant to the critical and futuristic technology requirements of the armed forces. After the successful design concept, development of a lab model, its testing and product development, start-ups and industry are taken on board as development partners.

Ten DRDO Industry Academia — Centres of Excellence (DIA-COE) have been established for research on more than 50 identified thrust areas like hypersonics, directed energy technology, quantum technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, material sciences, bio-technology, computing and communication technology, cyber security, etc.

These research cells are located in institutes like IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, IIT Hyderabad, IISC Bangalore, University of Hyderabad, Jadavpur University, Central University of Jammu, Mizoram University, Gujarat University and Bharathiar University.

Research projects have been initiated at the Centre of Excellence, IIT Delhi, to develop indigenous technology for quantum-based secure communication over fibre-based transmission lines and free space communication. For the first time, a joint team of DRDO and IIT Delhi scientists successfully demonstrated secure ‘Quantum link’ over a distance of 100 km between Prayagraj and Vindhyachal.

Focus On R&D

Research and development has been allocated a sum of Rs 11,981 crore in the current defence budget. Of this, start-ups, academia and private industry will be allowed to claim 25 per cent to develop military platforms and equipment in collaboration with DRDO.

About 68 per cent of the money for acquisition, made by the services, is to be used for indigenous items.