The DRDO revolution: The DRDO’s secret technology wish list - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 1 June 2008

The DRDO revolution: The DRDO’s secret technology wish list

(Concluding part of a series on the DRDO's new approach to technology)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd June 08

Symbolising the Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) transformed approach to technology is its new direction towards that holy grail of defence technology: the cutting-edge fighter aircraft. Already, the DRDO-HAL combine that is developing the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), has asked global aerospace majors for help in developing key systems --- the engine, flight controls and aircraft radar amongst them --- which are delaying the entire LCA programme.

And now, in a series of interviews to Business Standard, the DRDO’s high priests of technology --- the Chief Controllers of various divisions --- frankly admit that foreign technological assistance will be essential for India’s planned aircraft development programmes: the Fifth Generation Fighter Programme (FGFA), the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MRTA), and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) amongst others.

Dr Dipankar Banerjee, Chief Controller of Aeronautics and Materials Sciences, explains that a foreign partner will be vital for speeding up delivery; an Indian programme would eventually deliver, but the time frame would be unacceptable to the military. Dr Banerjee acknowledges, “I don’t in the future see a program without a strong foreign partner. The timelines would be enormous… So I don’t see a future without a strong foreign partner in the area of fifth generation combat aircraft.”

This new outreach from a traditionally inward-focused DRDO is rooted in a realistic assessment that the international sanctions regimes have loosened; global arms majors are eager to provide technologies that can fill in gaps in the DRDO’s own technology bank. The organisation’s top scientists believe that the only laws and agreements that continue to restrict technology inflows are: 

• The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
• The US Department of Commerce’s Control List, which lists dual use technologies.
• The ITAR, or International Trade and Arms Regulations of the US.
• The US Department of Energy, Atomic Energy Control Lists.

And even these logjams, it appears from the DRDO’s discussions with the US government and arms corporations can be officially bypassed. For example, Lockheed Martin has offered the DRDO assistance in developing India’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield, a complex system that the DRDO has successfully tested, but which still holds major technological challenges.

The DRDO is listening carefully to this new talk from a potential technology ally. Says Dr Banerjee, “We have a perception that there could be greater inputs in terms of the variety of technology to DRDO programs from (external) sources from out of the country… much of this has arisen from the interactions with the United States.”

Now the DRDO has generated a top-secret “technology wish list”, which must be obtained from foreign partners. Dr VK Saraswat, Chief Controller, Missiles and Strategic Systems reveals, “The document highlights the technology areas in which we would like to have cooperation. This will not be divulged, in case foreign technology developers start clamping down on those (technology) areas.”

But still unresolved is the issue of how the identified technology will be obtained. The DRDO wants these technologies to be obtained as a part of offsets; foreign vendors who obtain any contract for supplying defence equipment, must provide the DRDO with high end technology that features on its wish list. Dr Saraswat reveals that the MoD’s Director General (Acquisitions) has already been given that list of technologies, “to help people to take decisions about what are the areas which we have to negotiate, when we negotiate offsets.”

But the MoD feels differently. It has stated publicly that vendors are unlikely to part with cutting edge technology as a part of offsets; instead, the MoD will include its technology requirements in the contract document and pay for it up front. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for supply of 126 medium fighters (worth about $11 billion) has specified the technology that will be provided and paid for. The draft of the new Defence Procurement Policy of 2008, which will be promulgated shortly, does not allow for high technology to be included as a part of offsets.

Either way, the DRDO’s new technology wish list will form the basis for technology inflows.


  1. has asked global aerospace majors for help in developing key systems --- the engine, flight controls and aircraft radar amongst them

    Have you forgot the design is from Dassault, so what left in LCA that is "indigenous"-Pilot perhaps.

    the Chief Controllers of various divisions --- frankly admit that foreign technological assistance will be essential for India’s planned aircraft development programmes

    Give me a example otherwise, which has done without "foreign technological assistance". LCA, Dhruv, Shakti,

    Lockheed Martin has offered the DRDO assistance in developing India’s anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield,

    Has it not Saraswat already declared LM technology is outdated, the Prithvi based ABM is super duper!! Am I missing something??

  2. Ajai: Once again - a great piece! Am sure that not many people would have been granted access to the people you talked to. Business Standard have a very resourceful journalist in you.

    "the MoD will include its technology requirements in the contract document and pay for it up front."

    Nice! A refreshingly pragmatic view to the whole offsets clause business.

    It makes sense to stop beating around the bush and buy the tech that most would hate to transfer. Then we can have other (more immediate) needs met by offsets. We will be laughing in the long run from the expertise and best-practices that are bound to be learnt in the process.

  3. Anon: How is the LCA a "dassault design"? I thought that much of the electronics are of Indian origin, and so are the "pilot-space" aspects - like ergonomics, mission computer etc. Not to mention the extensive use of composites.

    If I am not mistaken, the LCA only became a fully indigenous effort after the Smiling Buddha bans. The DRDO changing its official tune will impact policy for the better. When they openly accept realities as a govt-funded body, they can stop trying to do everything themselves (and *then* importing upon failure to deliver on time). This leads to better resource allocation. Basic economic sense seems to have prevailed, as the obvious can now be done faster.

    I must have missed the LM comment - could you possibly post a link?

    Thanks a lot in advance!

  4. there goes the EMPTY VESSEL ankur again. not only does he comment on the article but also on other's comments. And because of this he got conned real bad! but the silly fella still hasn't learnt his lesson.

  5. hey forget the paki dude man..ankur..he is that paki guy buriad somethin who posts on shivs blog also ..
    he is just totally frustrated @ anything indian man..
    its like lca team went and humped his wife or somethin....

  6. silly ankur! you are absolutely true. ppl sit in their cosy homes ,some where in london and faraway from their mother land...he priases everything ajai writes!As far as i know DRDO is not involved in shakti engine programme or the FGFA as of now!

  7. yes. and in fact ankur is also a porkistani. but he's a lifeless donkey who just praises any dickgead he sees.

  8. hey don't tease ankur, or else ajai shukla will scold u! so scared..


  9. sorry ankur, i couldn't help myself n juz wanted some fun. chill dude.

  10. hey u RAVINDRA SooooNER, y not u mind ur own business.

  11. i am minding my own business..its u pakis who nonstop trash about india on india blogs, write ur own blogs and jump like monkeys there man..why do u pakis come and go nuts in india..that paki buria whatever ..its like the lca team went and molested his family in pak and got away...hes r u

  12. worst part is these pakis now want everything indian to be theres..go abroad and these fellows r so ashmaed of being from pak they say they're from india...but all time they spend on net to attack india, lca, drdo, army, air force..because their own country cant make anything, their af flies junk, their army is fully corrupt and running the jealous of india and attack it..

  13. agreed with SoooooNER.. pakis are porkis. the typical porki has a 'made in china' sticker on his ass. this is because the porkis can make nothing except shit (and other porki babies which are worse than shit; at least shit can be used as manure, however porkis are useless burden on earth). Everything else comes from China. However the porkis are now testing out new 'made in usa' stickers. this is because the porkis found hey developed nappy rash from wearing chinese stickers (perhaps because of high lead, sulphur and other toxic chemicals in their stickers). In fact to promote the contract, US has just released a batch of F16 fighter planes. Sooner or later chinese stickers will be dumped for new US ones. Older generation porkis however would have 2 stickers (one on each butt cheek). This is because they can't part with their old, loyal chinese stickers.

  14. but i wonder why SooooooNER is so worked up by all this?? Or perhaps he's a Porki playing some reverse psychology

  15. what is happeing to the blog, is it finished, why the long periods between new posts, i hope ajai you are ok.
    Looking forward to more new stuff from you soon.

  16. Blog alive and well, I've just been tied up with a lot of non-blog related work.

    In the coming days, you'll get a three-part series on the Arjun trials, and its future. Also, stuff on the LCA, LCH, Hawk, the INS Shivalik and more stories on warship building.

    Stay tuned.

  17. Ajai,
    Carry on regardless of few commenter's writing crap.

    I personally have upgraded my knowledge level by reading your posts.

    Best wishes


  18. just MYOB deepak. thanx


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