Bangalore: Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief, M. Natarajan, came out fighting in defence of the embattled organisation's performance at a press meet held on the sidelines of the Aero India 2007 show here. Faced with a volley of questions regarding DRDO's performance, Natarajan put the role of a research organisation into perspective, saying that research and development was essentially a ''…walk into the unknown''.
Natarajan mixed charm with biting sarcasm, even as he fielded a volley of questions on a range of topics from the national press at the media centre at the Air Force Base at Yelahanka in Bangalore.
About the development of the 'medium combat aircraft', Natarajan said that DRDO had begun design work on the project, though it was yet to receive government sanction. He pointed out that the initiative had been taken as gestation periods generally tended to be long for such projects.
Responding to another question regarding the Kaveri engine under development by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment, Natarajan said that the engine had reached a perfection level of 92 to 93 per cent, but those levels were not enough, as real performance levels were attained after that –he referred to it as the ''slam'' effect. To push the performance levels of the Kaveri up to 95 to 98 per cent and beyond, he said, DRDO was already in talks with foreign companies. Natarajan is hopeful that agreements would be arrived at soon. He said he hoped to make an announcement in this regard in three months time, if not sooner.
In any case, Natarajan declared, ''Kaveri or no Kaveri, work on the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) would continue apace.'' Orders have already been received from the air force for two squadrons, which would be powered by newer versions of GE 404 engines, which have already been contracted.
According to Natarajan, India still needs to improve on its capability in the development of materials; this gap could turn out to be critical. He hopes that a tie-up with a foreign firm would resolve this problem. He expects the Kaveri to be productionised four to five years from now. GE is a likely partner.
He says engine technology is particularly complex. India has entered the game a little late; it is bound to take some time to catch up with global leaders in this area.
One of the most serious problems India faces, according to Natarajan, is lack of design expertise in this area. He says talent is hard to find and even harder to retain, given the relatively lower wages in the government sector.
Curiously, Natarajan rued the fact that though DRDO had opened shop in Bangalore earlier than the IT sector, it was now turning out to be a handicap to be co-located in the city along with high-paying IT firms. He said that attrition rates in DRDO laboratories ranged from 20 to 27 per cent.
also see : India
and Russia to develop hypersonic cruise missiles:
According to Natarajan, DRDO is planning to develop a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle, very likely with a foreign partner. The MALE would be a joint services requirement, ensuring a larger production figure that should attract overseas interest. Smaller UAVs would be sourced from small and medium scale domestic players, as they would be able to handle the lower numbers. The MALE would incorporate stealth, telemetry and other automated features that have already been developed for the LCA.
Natarajan pointed out that defence related research consumed just 6.3 per cent of the defence budget, though parliamentary committees have already recommended that the levels ought to be around 10 per cent.