Developing a more Indian defence

The new DRDO chief is optimistic on the progress of the LCA and missile programmes and keen on securing technology transfer and access to raw materials Avinash Chander, chief architect of India’s Agni series of missiles, took over as Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and Director-General of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on May 31, succeeding Dr V.K. Saraswat. Dr. Chander, who played a key role in the successful development of the 5,000-km-range Agni-V, joined the DRDO in 1972 after graduating as an electrical engineer from IIT Delhi. In an interview to The Hindu, the new DRDO chief speaks about key projects like the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the future of India’s missile programme, denial of high-end technology to India and the need for increased R&D efforts. Excerpts from the interview:

On the LCA project

The LCA is going well. We said the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) 2 will be completed by this year end. IOC 2 is progressing very well and in spite of bad weather a number of sorties have taken place. HAL team is working well along with the Air Force and a very well integrated operation is going on. We are very confident that IOC 2 will be completed on time. The Final Operational Clearance is slated for 2014-end. Meanwhile, production will start from this year onwards and we expect that the first aircraft will roll out in 2014. Right now, we have orders from the Indian Air Force for 40, in 20-plus-20 option. The naval version of LCA is also going on well, Prototype Version (PV) 1 and PV2 are getting integrated, and PV1 should be completed by this year end.

On the project’s cost overrun

The cost of LCA is a small fraction of what an F-15 costs. We have developed one of the lowest costing aircraft. We are confident that the LCA will be able to compete very well in performance as well as on cost basis with equivalent aircraft. It will be comparable to Gripen aircraft. The day we start thinking about LCA, you cannot start putting cost on it.

On the missile programme

Agni V is moving ahead. Agni IV and V both are going to be inducted in the next couple of years. We will be going for user trials of Agni IV which has a range of 4,000 km and Agni V which has a range of 5,000 km. Then we are going for Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM.) and its trials are going to take place in Israel very soon. Astra air-to-air missile programme is also going very well. Astra will be going for the Sukhoi SU-30 launch by this year end. Nag — we had very good tests for seekers also recently, we are confident that Nag will also be able to meet performance requirements of the users in the very severe environmental conditions of the Indian desert. We are also working on futuristic, new long-range surface-to-air missiles of 250 to 300 km range. We are working on multi-range missiles, also on short-range surface-to-air missile. The aim is to become globally competitive in terms of missile accuracy, lethality and range.

On tactical missiles like Prahar

Prahar will go for user trial shortly, this year. Prahar is a good [surface-to-surface] system with a range of 140 km. It will have an accuracy of two metres and that is a very vital addition. We are also enhancing the range of Pinaka rockets from the existing 40 km to 60 km for Pinaka mark II. Prahar will be the third layer to cover up to 140 km, which is a very potent layer.

Comparison with Chinese missiles

In terms of technology and performance, Indian missile systems are comparable with any other system in the world, including whatever our neighbours have — comparable and better also in some cases. Total variety and ranges of the systems are decided based on each country’s individual requirements, how they see the threat and their role in the global scenario. The extent of the arsenal may differ but what we have is comparable with the best.

Source: The Hindu

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