Building collaboration between academia and industry would be the first step to building an R&D ecosystem in Aerospace and Defence in India

Innovation is largely driven by R&D, with many interdisciplinary fields being connected to basic and applied sciences. According to the All India Survey of Higher Education by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, only 2.5% of colleges in the country have Ph.D. programs, and the majority opt for basic sciences followed by Engineering and Technology. There is vast potential to build careers in R&D. Let us now take a look at R&D in Aerospace.

R&D in Defence and Aerospace will not only lead to industrial growth in the country, but also help the country become an economic superpower. Educational institutions should train and motivate students to take up research as a career, rather than as an option for survival. The first step towards building an R&D ecosystem would be to set up state-of-the-art research facilities on the campus, with industry collaboration. Agnikul Cosmos, an IIT-M incubated start-up, is an example of this strategy. Recently ISRO signed an MOU with Agnikul Cosmos for its upcoming mission, a first-of-its kind in India followed by a U.S. collaboration between NASA and SPACEX.

Space Science is one of the multidisciplinary domains closely associated with basic sciences and their applications. It is a sector with a high R&D output and is composed of many interdisciplinary fields closely associated with Astronomy, Planetary Science, Physical Cosmology, Astrophysics, and other such sciences. It also involves practical application and industrial expertise such as Astrodynamics, Atmospheric Science, Space Systems and Communication, to name a few.

The Way Forward

To enhance interest in research, the government has announced the PM Research Fellowships (PMRF) for doctoral research at central institutes with scholarships of ₹80,000 per month. A stipend of ₹ 12,400 per month is offered for PG studies at premier institutes through GATE. UG students should train for GATE and academics simultaneously, as this will motivate them to opt for R&D in core Aerospace, even during their UG.

Students who want to pursue R&D should possess a good academic record with Maths, Computer Science, and Basic Sciences as their main subjects. Relevant subjects like Physics or Astronomy should be part of the coursework of undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Also, a Ph.D. and Post Doctorate is preferred for high-paying positions in the R&D sectors of these fields.

Research Ecosystem

The R&D in Aerospace includes Airborne Defence Electronics, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul, Supply Chain Management, Swarm Drones, Autonomous flight, and OEMs. India has an ecosystem of design and development of Aircraft and UAVs, but the development of new aircraft takes place slowly. The main reason is the time taken to develop components indigenously and the lack of workforce in R&D. For example, India’s first passenger aircraft SARAS was developed by the National Aerospace Laboratories(NAL) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for Manufacturing and had a successful test flight in 2019. It took 14 years to reach that point.

Career Progression

Education in STEM-related fields is a must. Engineering undergraduate study relevant to the fields with some interdisciplinary topics and practical applicability towards the industry is important. MTech is mandatory for most Scientist positions at CSIR Institutes, HAL, DRDO, and private organisations. Countries such as Germany, the U.S., and Israel expect doctorate degrees for Scientist positions. The opportunities in R&D in India are good in terms of salary, security, and satisfaction with pay packages ranging from ₹4.2LPA to ₹30LPA.

Industrial Projects And Scope

Honeywell, General Electric, Quest Global, Airbus India, Boeing, and Safran Aerospace are leading Aerospace organisations in India, which have good collaborations with academia. Recently, ISRO has entered into MOUs with IIT-M, IISc, and other private organisations to accelerate space programs in India. These organisations are rapidly shifting towards digital twin technologies offered by Industry 4.

Constant effort will attract funds from funding agencies to set up state-of-the-art research centres on campuses. The involvement of academic institutions has changed the start-up ecosystem in Aerospace and Defence. The latest technologies have to be taught at the UG level so that students are ready to tackle more complex challenges in the future. Setting up incubation centres for student and faculty start-ups is the starting point to achieve global recognition in R&D.