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In-Depth Jobs

Issue no 44, 28 January - 03 February 2023


Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO)

Driving Self Reliance in Defence


Ravi Gupta


A family of about 20,000 strong workforce that includes about 7000 DRDS (Defence Research and Development Service) scientists and over 8000 Defence Research Technical Cadre (DRTC), Defence Research and Development Organisation, popularly known as DRDO, is not just another government organisation. A knowledge generator and a Strategic Science Department, it provides a fertile ground where innovations bloom to turn into technologies, designs, and prototypes that are thoroughly and stringently evaluated to meet the most demanding performance requirements laid down by our country's Armed Forces. Once cleared for induction by the Armed Forces, DRDO leads these technologies, designs and prototypes to production through industry by transferring the knowhow to such industries and hand holding them till the production is stabilised. Thus, central to our nation's defence R&D, testing, evaluation and production ecosystem, the DRDO has been the main driving force behind building AatmaNirbharta in defence.


DRDO: Then and Now

Ever since its inception as the Defence Science Organisation (DSO) in 1948 (with mandate limited primarily to advisory roles) and later as DRDO (since 1958), the organisation has been striving for nation building and making India stronger with self reliance in defence technologies. Unlike construction of dams that begin with a giant base, organisations begin like trees from a small seed. Professor Daulat Singh Kothari, an eminent physicist was handpicked by the then Prime Minister to be the first Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence and to set up DSO. The country having recently regained its independence after a long spell of foreign rules lacked the required experience and expertise, knowledge base, industrial base, infrastructure for testing and evaluation - everything had to be done from scratch. Whatever little - ordnance factories, inspectorates etc were present with the Armed Forces / Ministry of Defence, had been created by colonial rulers for their war efforts (WW I and WW II) and were barely able to manufacture low-tech products under licence and supervision from parent companies abroad. The organisation that made a humble beginning soon after independence in dilapidated colonial era barracks in vicinity of South Block has over the time grown into strong well knit network of about 50 self accounting laboratories and establishments, each headed by an experienced scientist as its Director, with each lab focusing on a group of specific, closely related areas of science and technology. The DRDO headquarters now located in a magnificent green complex at Rajaji Marg in the National Capital functions as hub for apex level planning and management of nation's defence R&D efforts and synergistic coordination of activities of various laboratories while acting as a bridge between the organisation and rest of the government departments. DRDO is part of the Department of Defence R&D under the Ministry of Defence. Besides DRDO, the department has under its umbrella several other Strategic Science Organisations each focusing on a highly specialised area of defence R&D. Aeronautical Development Agency ADA for example has its focus on indigenous development of Combat Aircrafts such as Tejas and its variants, AMCA and unmanned combat aircrafts. Secretary Department of Defence R&D, an experienced scientist of exceptional calibre is also the Chairman DRDO. This empowerment of the Chairman DRDO with the post of Secretary, Government of India, ensures functional synergy among various constituents of the department while ensuring resonance with the rest of the Government and the national policies.


Vision and Mission: DRDO has been working with a mission to design, develop and lead to production of state-of-the-art sensors, weapon systems, platforms and allied equipment for our country's defence services; to provide technological solutions to the services for optimising their combat effectiveness; to promote well-being of the troops; to develop infrastructure and committed quality manpower and to build strong indigenous technology base. It has been wholeheartedly focusing on empowering the nation with state-of-theart indigenous Defence technologies and systems as reflected in its vision statement. The cumulative production value of DRDO developed systems approved under the capital head of expenditure alone stands at over Rs. 4,00,000 crore; the cost of acquisition of similar systems if imported would have been many times more. The figure does not include Strategic Systems like Agni and similar series of ballistic missiles (for obvious reasons), nor does it include the value of products procured by the services under the revenue head of expenditure from our country's own industries. The real output of DRDO's efforts towards nation building will come out to be many times more than all these added together if its contributions towards growth of R&D and industrial ecosystem and the consequential immense impact on direct and indirect employment generation are also taken into account.


Spectrum of DRDO Developed Products: The DRDO has developed a wide range of products including Combat Aircrafts, Nuclear Powered Submarines such as Arihant, Strategic and Tactical Missiles such as Agni series, K15, Astra, Akash, Ballistic Missile Defence Systems, AntiSatellite Weapon System (ASAT) Armoured Combat Vehicles, Field Guns, Mobility Systems such as Bridging Systems, Sensors such as Radars for the three Services, Sonars for Battleships and Submarines, Torpedoes and Anti Ship Mines, Electro Optical Sensors, Laser based instruments and sensors, Electronic Warfare Systems, specialised circuits and Systems on Chip (SoC), Secure Communication Systems, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Defence Systems, Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) and a wide range of Soldier Support Systems and Services including products and services for defence against Chemical Biological Radiation and Nuclear Warfare. With an eye on futuristic technologies, the DRDO has been initiating work on such required technologies well in advance. Artificial Intelligence is one such area. Even when artificial intelligence was considered more of a fiction rather than reality, a DRDO laboratory namely the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) had commenced work in the right direction.


Range of R&D Activities: The R&D activities of the DRDO cover nearly all the Science, Technology and Engineering subjects as well as Psychology as it has been mandated to cater to the complete spectrum of needs of our Armed Forces, including requirements of soldiers as human beings. That brings in the importance of various Life Sciences subjects though the bulk of the induction has been in engineering branches.


Human Resources and Job Opportunities: In its pursuit of ensuring the nation's 'self-reliance in defence with excellence', DRDO's human resources are its most valuable asset built through elaborate selection processes and further continuous processes of training in required fields that include technologies and technology management.


DRDS Cadre: Induction for DRDS (Defence Research and Development Service) cadre is largely at the entry level rank of Scientist 'B', a Group A (Gazetted) post, though if needed, lateral induction at higher ranks is also permissible. The minimum qualification requirement at the entry level is a First Class Bachelor's Degree in respective engineering/ technology stream or a First Class Post Graduate Degree in respective basic science subjects. Recruitment and Assessment Centre (RAC) is the designated authority for selections and performance based promotions of DRDS scientists in the ranks of Scientist 'B' to Scientist 'G', Outstanding Scientist and Distinguished Scientist. Promotions are approved by the competent authority on the basis of recommendations of RAC and are based on a flexible complementing scheme whereby posts held by the promotee is upgraded to the next higher rank.


Technical and Allied Cadres: The Centre for Personnel Talent Management CEPTAM is the designated authority for conducting centralized selections of all DRTC (DRDO Technical Cadre), Admin & Allied Cadre (Group 'B' and Group 'C'). It is also entrusted with assessments for promotion of DRTC personnel and organising their training.


Trainings and Fellowships: DRDO also has its own institutes namely Defence Institute of Advanced Technology DIAT - a deemed University, and Institute for Technology Management ITM. Besides, inhouse training programs at central level in these two institutes and CEPTAM, and continuing education programs at laboratory levels, scientists are also deputed to reputed institutions and organisations outside DRDO, both within the country and abroad for training in specific areas. DRDO personnel are also encouraged to enhance their educational qualifications in their respective fields of specialisations. DRDO also offers research fellowships for a limited period of time to bright individuals. Please follow the link https://www.drdo.gov.in/research-fellow for more details. (Readers are encouraged to visit the relevant websites for more details).


DRDO Labs and Management Clusters: The DRDO laboratories while remaining primary thrust generators behind drives for AatmaNirbharta in defence in their respective specialised fields of defence R&D, these are grouped into seven Technology Clusters, each headed by a Director General - a scientist generally of the rank of Distinguished Scientist or Outstanding Scientist, who facilitates synergy among cluster labs as well as supports Chairman DRDO in facilitating synergy among various clusters. These seven clusters are: Aeronautical Systems (Aero), Armament & Combat Engineering Systems (ACE), Micro Electronic Devices and Computational Systems & Cyber Systems (MED & CoS), Electronics and Communication Systems (ECS), Life Sciences (LS), Micro Electronic Devices, Missiles and Strategic Systems (MSS) and the Naval Systems and Materials (NS & M). The corporate management that functions at the headquarters level are similarly grouped into six clusters of directorates namely Human Resource (HR), Production Coordination and Services Interaction (PC & SI), Resource Management (RM), System Analysis and Modelling (SAM), Technology Management (TM), and BrahMos.


Handholding Industry Partners: Defence industrial base in our country, as stated earlier, was nearly non-existent. Defence Public Sector Undertakings functioning under the Department of Defence Production were engaged mainly in licensed manufacturing of imported products mostly on built-to-print basis. Involvement of private sector industries as a matter of Government policy in production of finished defence products/ complete systems was permitted since 2001 only. Until then, since independence, it remained the exclusive domain of Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and Ordnance Factories. The private sector industries on the other hand could take up production of only the components/ subsystems. Notably, manufacturing doesn't normally come under the permitted domains of the DRDO. Nevertheless, prolonged interactions of industries with DRDO for making DRDO developed components and subsystems as well as for key fabrication and testing equipment that were not available in the country and were denied by foreign suppliers led to significant expansion of our country's industrial base in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Numbers of such industries run into thousands and include private sector large scale industries, MSMEs as well as DPSUs and StartUps and has been growing rapidly. Thus, each new product developed by DRDO when inducted by the services has a multiplying effect on employment generation in the manufacturing partner industries. The funds spent on procurement of such indigenous products remain within the country and lead to wealth and employment generation. The provision of 68% of the capital procurement budget of the armed forces for procurements from the domestic defence industry together with keeping 411 items under the positive indigenisation lists announced by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will go a long way in enhancing induction of the indigenous system in our armed forces.


Technology Development Fund (TDF): This is one such scheme being implemented through DRDO that encourages our own MSMEs and StartUps to take up defence R&D projects aimed at fulfilling specific needs of the Ministry of Defence. The scheme allows funding upto 90% cost of such projects upto a maximum of Rs. 10 crore. Please refer to the TDF website for more details. Establishment of DIA-CoE during recent years will further boost capabilities of our industries, potentially taking them to next higher levels of venturing into in house Defence R&D.


Development cum Production Partner Scheme: DRDO also engages industry as DcPP, Development Partners (DP), Production Agency (PA) during the execution of projects and programmes. Currently, about 20,000 industries are engaged in the development of various systems, sub-systems and technologies directly and indirectly. DRDO has also identified 108 systems and subsystems for exclusive design and development by the Indian industry. DRDO technically supports the industry for realising these systems on a requirement basis.


Patent Transfer: To further encourage the Indian industry, most of DRDO's patents and relevant intellectual publications are available for the domestic industry free of cost. Indian industry is utilising DRDO test facilities and proof & field firing ranges for ensuring quality defence products.


DRDO-Academia Connect: Academic Institutions and Industry have been key partners during the entire journey of DRDO since its inception. Interactions and collaborations with academic Institutions go well beyond their role of being quality human resource providers and engagements for carrying out basic science research. In many cases, deeper collaborations with partners from academia were instrumental in the development of niche technologies that were denied to our nation. DRDO is working with more than 250 academic institutes on different defence R&D problems for basic, applied and targeted research. Presently, fifteen DRDO - Industry - Academia Centres of Excellence (DIA-CoE) are existing for sustained collaborative R&D in specific areas of technologies. DRDO has multiple modes of engagement with industry and academia. Some of them are extramural research, directed research, DcPP (Development Cum Production Partner) and TDF (Technology Development Fund) for the development of advanced technologies and systems.The budget of FY 2022-23 witnessed another major step of earmarking 25% of defence R&D budget for engagement of industry, StartUps and academia. In tune with its AatmaNirbhar Bharat initiative the present government has launched several game changer schemes that are also going to assist in fulfilling the aim of turning Bharat, till a few years back, the world's topmost importer of defence products, into a major exporter of such products. Another game changer impact of such schemes is going to be the percolation of Defence R&D culture to our country's academia and industries on an unprecedented scale Dare to Dream Contest: Innovations are key to development of cutting edge defence technologies. With a vision to promote innovations in defence technologies, DRDO has been launching Dare to Dream Contest every year since 2019. Aim has been to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, individuals above 18 years and start-ups (recognised by DPIIT and with Indian founders) for innovative ideas in the field of Defence. According to a recent MoD press release, under the past three Dare to Dream contests, a total of 52 individuals and 34 start-ups have been awarded out of 5,637 applications received. A total of 7 projects had been sanctioned and awarded to start-ups of Dare to Dream contest winners. The selection criteria for evaluation of the entries are completeness of proposal, scientific soundness, design completeness, merit, technological readiness level achieved and innovation. The selected individuals/companies are getting benefitted as DRDO supports them to realise awarded ideas into Prototype through TDF scheme. Thus DRDO has been driving innovations in the field of defence technologies. There has been a distinct and visible shift during the past several years in Government policies whereby imports of defence products are being minimised, thus allowing indigenous systems to get inducted. Launching of schemes promoting AatmaNirbharta in the defence sector is leading to rapid growth of our own defence industries. Implications for our nation's youth are opening up of unprecedented opportunities for employment and career growth even as our country moves ahead with greater pace on the path of regaining its glory and immense prosperity.


Further reading and references:

· Website of the DRDO https://www.drdo.gov.in/ 


· Website of the Recruitment and Assessment Centre RAC https://rac.gov.in/ 


· Website of Technology Development Fund DRDO https://tdf.drdo.gov.in/ 


· DRDO social media handles/pages: @DRDO_India https://twitter.com/DRDO_India?t=bAVipeCtL8S6FjBIVEr0fw&s=08 https://instagram.com/dpi.drdo?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y= https://www.facebook.com/DPIDRDO 


· DRDO publications: Defence Scientific Information and Documentation Centre DESIDOC, a DRDO establishment has been bringing out many journals, magazines, newsletters, books and monographs covering a wide spectrum of defence technologies and products. Some of these are available online as well. For more information, please visit: https://www.drdo.gov.in/publications 



· Institutions that Shaped Modern India - DRDO. Book by Ravi Kumar Gupta. Rupa Publications 2021. https://rupapublications.co.in/books/institutions-that-shaped-modern-india-drdo/


(The author is former Scientist G & Director Public Interface, DRDO, Ministry of Defence. He can be reached at rav26051@gmail.com)



Views expressed are personal.