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Aeronautics - A DRDO perspective
5 February 2007
M. Natarajan
Bangalore: A hearty welcome to you all to Aero India 2007, the international seminar on "Aerospace Technologies - Challenges and Opportunities" organised by the Defence Research and Development Organisation in association with the Aeronautical Society of India.

Aeronautics industry in India has been registering an exponential growth. In addition to the government sector, a number of private air Transport operators and industries are contributing to the growth. DRDO has taken a conscious decision to remain focussed and to work on the development of defence systems and related technologies.

Aeronautics-related development budget is the largest in DRDO, close to Rs.10,000 crore (about $2 billion)and expected to grow to Rs.25,000 crore (about $5 billion) or more in the next 10 years. We have allocations for programmes related to the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the Kaveri Engine, electronic warfare systems, multi sensor airborne surveillance platform, Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) and missiles. Thus we have major thrust areas in manned aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, airborne systems and air armaments.

While meeting user perspectives and requirements remain the major objective in the DRDO's aeronautical programmes, we are equally conscious of the need to do research on emerging technologies, drawing on talents and skills from academia and industry and augmenting our own human resources besides building requisite infrastructure for research and development.

The Indian Light Combat Aircraft — Tejas — incorporates many new avionics and glass and display systems. It is clearly a leap from the HF 24 base the country had as its maiden design. The Tejas has completed nearly 600 flights without any incident and we have orders in hand for 20 LCAs for the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) besides eight being built as part of the development phase. It is clearly a significant milestone and the order symbolises faith in DRDO by decision makers. With this strength on our side, there are now prospects for international collaborations for design and development of future aerospace vehicles and systems and we are looking forward to meaningful discussions with leading aircraft designers and manufacturers at the Aero India show.

The LCA is already evolving into its variants — the LCA Naval Version and LCA Trainer, with the potential to become an advanced jet trainer beyond Hawk. The naval version will have about 70 per cent parts in common with the LCA Air Force trainer. It shall meet with specific requirements of the nose drop for improved cockpit vision, LEVECON for improved aerodynamics, strength enhancement to airframe and carriage for resisting arrestor gear loads, a fuel dumping system and capability to operate from aircraft carriers. We see opportunities to build an MCA and eventually an UCAV as a continuation for our efforts in this direction. I believe a succession of LCA-based platforms is what we need to preserve and keep improving avionics, EW systems and sensors such as multi mode radar and weapons package towards meeting the country's defence needs well over the next 25 to 30 years.

We have ambitious plans on the UAV platforms, thanks to significant achievements under the Lakshya and Nishant programmes at the Aeronautical Development Establishment. We have taken action already to develop a medium and long endurance UAV to be jointly developed with the Indian industry partner. In fact we have already requested "Expression of Interest" from Indian industries to partner with us. We have hopes that the Indian industries would cater to the needs of services for mini-UAVs. We will support all our manned and unmanned aircraft programmes with engineering simulation facilities and ground rigs to fix all problems on the ground.

The Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) is the lead laboratory spearheading research and development in airborne electronic warfare and mission avionics, very significantly contributing to self reliance in these critical technology areas. DARE has successfully equipped aircraft fleet of Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with Radar Warning Receivers and EW suite. The public sector unit M/S Bharat Electronics manufactures the TEMPEST, TRANQUIL and TARANG Systems. Mission computers for SU 30 MKI, Jaguar and MIG 27 and of course LCA have been successfully developed and are being used. A Core Avionics Computer has been developed as part of MiG 27 upgrades as also a similar system for Jaguar. A supersonic electronic pod as a high accuracy direction finding system for SU 30 MKI aircraft has been developed. Digital radio frequency memory with a built-in ECM jammer has also been developed against radar threats. Programs on the anvil include development of advanced EW systems for LCA and futuristic MCA.

We are also developing the Airborne Early Warning and Control System with the Centre for Airborne Systems as the lead laboratory. The original proposal envisaged an executive Jet based platform. During the last 2 years, changing scenario as well experience gained through AWACS being procured has resulted in additional insights into the operational requirements. After detailed and thorough analysis, a baseline configuration has been evolved and finalised. The scope of AEW&C programme is to deliver two fully qualified systems to the IAF as part of Phase I.  Additional 6-8 systems are contemplated as part of Phase II of this programme.

As far as Kaveri engine (to power LCA) is concerned we have worked on the gas turbine engine technology and this has enabled GTRE to develop Kaveri engine and in realizing the dry thrust, re-heat thrust almost 90-93 per cent of the expected performance.  Our current plan is to leverage the hard earned knowledge and invite risk sharing partnership in completing the development and certification processes.  Efforts are being made to formalise this partnership programme as early as possible with leading engine houses that have responded.  In parallel, we are also working on the marine version of the Kaveri engine and have made substantial progress in this.

One of our DRDO labs, namely the ADRDE is involved in development of parachutes, arrester barriers, floatation systems, balloons and other arial delivery systems.  Our current and long term plans include private sector participation in development and production of these items.

The Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) is in charge of seeing through certification of products and processes under all our programs. The centre has developed tremendous expertise in the complex methodology of certification on par with international organisations.

We have identified key technology areas in aeronautics. We will stay focused on emerging technologies such as newer materials for single crystal blade, electro optic sensors and active electronically scanned array radar, long range precision guidance systems, ring laser gyros and MEMS based sensors and navigation systems, BVR missiles, stealth and Supercruise.  We will invest in significant training programmes that focus on refreshing and enhancing design skills of our young scientists.  We sincerely believe all these measures will get the requisite governmental support.

The aerospace seminar, undoubtedly, is the best forum to share our vision and experience and learn from those with record of achievements and accomplishments and seek professional alliances on topics of mutual interests and business pursuits. 

May I, therefore, wish the deliberations over the next three days to be productive and purposeful for all the participants.  I particularly give my best wishes to young scientists, who are here in numbers to seize the opportunity to meet with the challenges of the future with innovative and creative ideas and efforts and user in a growth in aerospace technology and products akin to the growth in our automotive industry.

(Speech delivered by M. Natarajan, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister)







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