India Building Defense Technologies To Increase Exports

DRDO chairman G. Satheesh Reddy
G. Satheesh Reddy, chairman of the Defense Research and Development Organization

G. Satheesh Reddy, chairman of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), discusses how the agency is collaborating with industry and academia to develop advances in quantum technology, photonics, avionics, robotics and more. 

AW&ST: What are the future priorities of the DRDO? Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi has called for us to become self-reliant and says exports from this country should be large. For that, we are trying to develop state-of-the-art and futuristic technologies with fast turnaround times. As the industry ecosystem is evolving in the country, DRDO’s focus is more on our advanced technologies, which would enable India to reduce the imports in a big way and then increase exports in a big way.

Do you have a time frame for that vision? In the next five years, our exports should be going up exponentially.

Which specific technologies are most promising for the export market for you? We are very strong in missiles, radars, sonars, electronic-warfare systems, communication systems, guns and aircraft. We have received a lot of inquiries from various countries in these areas. And we will focus on all these areas for exports.

You have mentioned India is completely self-reliant when it comes to missile technologies. How close are you to self-reliance with regard to UAVs and countering UAVs? India has developed many design systems and technologies, lots of systems that have surface-to-surface missiles, air-to-air missiles and anti-tank missiles. We have a large industrial base to develop prototypes that can be scaled up for production in large numbers.

Regarding UAVs, we have developed one UAV called Rustom-1 with about 10 hr. of endurance. Second, we are in the process of developing a main medium-altitude long-endurance [MALE] UAV, with the capability to fly close to 30,000 ft. and an endurance of more than 18 hr. It will have a lot of payloads for intelligence and surveillance applications, which actually will be on par with any MALE UAV in the world. So that system is getting tested now, going through various trials. Development should be complete in the first half of next year. Then we should go through more trials with induction about 1-1.5 years from there. We are also working on swarm technologies and simulations of other innovative applications.

How have sanctions proposed by the U.S. after India’s purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile influenced the DRDO’s work? Our focus is on developing indigenous technologies without dependence on other countries. We have made great progress on this. We focus on all the gaps that we have, and we work on it. And that’s how we tackle anything.

Commentators have suggested Indian industry is prepared to leapfrog work on the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft [AMCA], effectively skipping the Tejas Mk. 2 or light combat aircraft [LCA]. Are the two programs complementary? How will the DRDO contribute to the AMCA? The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft is a fifth-generation fighter, whereas the light combat aircraft Mk. 2 is a 4.5-generation aircraft. Both have slightly different roles to play. The LCA Mk. 2 is a heavier version of LCA Mk. 1A with higher capabilities. AMCA is a five-plus-generation aircraft with twin engines and capabilities that are different from the LCA.

DRDO has been working on the technologies required for the five-plus generation—whether it is the materials, stealth technologies, aerodynamics, avionics and related technologies—and focusing on those core technologies and working for the design of AMCA. Basically, the Aeronautical Development Agency is the design house for the AMCA. Industry will be joining in taking it further and producing it on a large scale.

How is the DRDO’s attempt to build engine technology? And how is the Defense Metallurgical Research Laboratory’s [DMRL] development of complex titanium alloys progressing? DRDO is trying to develop engines for current requirements as well as various applications, including fighter aircraft. The Indian requirement calls for a lot of material technology. The DMRL is working on many alloys and processing technologies.

DRDO has established near-isothermal forging technology to produce high-pressure compressor discs out of difficult-to-deform titanium alloys using its unique 2000 MT isothermal forge press. This critical technology and methodology developed by DMRL can be tuned to develop similar aeroengine components.

We are in the advanced stages of developing an engine for the Nirbhay cruise missile and working on the engine for the AMCA. We are also looking for partners who can work with us nationally and internationally.

What are the next steps for the solid-fuel ducted ramjet system, and when do you expect to transition that technology for operational service on a fighter? We have been developing the solid-fuel ducted ramjet [SFDR], and we conducted a flight test. Now we are taking it to the full flight-test mode, and soon that will get tested. After proving this SFDR technology fully, that will get into our air-to-air missile mode, which we should be developing in the next phase after establishing the SFDR technology.

India has tested the hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle [HSTDV]. What are the next steps in testing that weapon, and what is the development schedule? India has tested HSTDV as a demonstration vehicle. And we have tested the scramjet engine for about 23 sec. It was launched using a proven solid-rocket motor, which took it to an altitude of 30 km [19 mi.]. It proved many critical technologies, including the aerodynamic configuration for hypersonic maneuvers, scramjet propulsion for ignition and sustained combustion at hypersonic flow, thermo-structural characterization of high-temperature materials and the separation mechanism at hypersonic velocity.

The next test is planned with the final cruise vehicle configuration and long-duration scramjet-powered phase.

Is the Rudram-1 anti-radiation missile still on track to enter service in 2022? The Rudram-1 missile has undergone a couple of trials already. The system is in an advanced stage of development, and we need to do more development trials. I’m sure the development trials will be completed in 2022. After that [will come] the process for production and induction. By 2023, the system should start moving out for the induction.

Did you encounter some challenges along the way? Rudram-1 has a lot of challenging technologies. We have some we are working on. And some challenges we are in the process of overcoming. We are working with a couple of industries and academia to resolve those problems. As I said, we have tested all of them in the laboratories. We need to test them in the actual trials and prove that. And I’m very hopeful that by 2022, we’ll be able to complete all those things.

India took a lot of heat for its direct ascent anti-satellite [ASAT] missile test in 2019. We’ve seen Russia recently conduct a similar test, which provoked international criticism. How do you see that international reaction? When we did the Mission Shakti test in 2019, it was a technology demonstration. The world has seen that India’s ASAT test resulted in very limited debris in space.

Jen DiMascio

Based in Washington, Jen previously managed Aviation Week’s worldwide defense, space and security coverage.