India’s defence research chief Dr S Christopher has explained the various stages of development of the country’s array of sophisticated weapons and where they stand currently. India already has anti-satellite capability. However, Dr Christopher says any ballistic missile that flies for a 1,000-plus km height can be designed in such a way that it becomes an anti-satellite weapon. “You do not necessarily need to specially use Agni-V (ballistic missile),” he told NDTV in an exclusive interview. The defence scientist says unmanned warfare is going to be the order of the day, with drone development taking centre stage.
Here’s the full transcript of the exclusive interview with Dr S Christopher, Chairman, Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), New Delhi:
NDTV: What you see is the India Gate or the Indian War Memorial. It has names of thousands of soldiers etched on it. These are the soldiers who lost their lives in the World War. They probably would not have had the scientific and technological support like Indian soldiers have today. I have with me Dr S Christopher. He is the chairman of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India, a mammoth organisation of 52 laboratories which makes everything from submarines to components for satellites and helps in life sciences. This is the 20th anniversary of the Pokhran nuclear tests and it also marks a very interesting thing, a new Bollywood film has come out which showcases the capability of the DRDO in a film called Parmanu, in which John Abraham is the lead actor. This particular film showcases the DRDO and the Pokhran tests of 1998. Dr Christopher is all-in-all a radar man. India’s future really rests on how well India is protected by its own technologies. Welcome to the programme, Dr Christopher.
NDTV: See, it’s been 20 years since we had those nuclear explosions, which means our nuclear bombs, atom and hydrogen bombs both are of 20-year vintage. Are they old? Do we need to do something, do we need to modernise?
Dr Christopher: This is one thing which probably I may not be in a position to give you.
NDTV: As a scientist, not so much as a person who makes policy but as a scientist, if today the prime minister were to ask you to come and say like he asked Dr Kalam, can you do in T minus 40 days? If he asks you, are we ready for it?
Dr Christopher: We are ready more than anything else. I wanted to tell you that technology-wise we are continuously growing, there is no doubt about it. You cannot stagnate at that position and the growth is continuously happening.
NDTV: So without testing, we are able to make more capable atom and hydrogen bombs?
Dr Christopher: Everything in this R and D you cannot test. Like for instance, before sending them on a mission to the moon, we are not testing like somebody going at least partly every other day. There are lot of simulations, which is today possible to say what exactly will happen. Proof of the pudding is doing only sample example which we are in a position to do it. We are in a position to say strongly that we are capable of doing it.
NDTV: So if required, you can implement whatever happened in 1998 at a short notice?
Dr Christopher: Sure, it is possible.
NDTV: It is possible. And would it still be what T minus 40 days, or you can do it even shorter?
Dr Christopher: I do not want to comment on that.
NDTV: But we have the wherewithal and we have the capability…
Dr Christopher: We have the capability. We have the capability and notwithstanding that it is not only the nuclear part of it. There are so many other paraphernalia. Those are also to be in-parallel improved. Communication links for that matter how to have a contact with a person who is in charge with respect to the headquarters or from the centre or whatever is this. All those communications are to be hardened and strengthened and every possible place we can improve. There are several developments continuously going on.
NDTV: So, as far as our strategic sector, both nuclear weapons go as the head of our DRDO you can safely say we are in good hands even 20 years later?
Dr Christopher: I am absolutely sure and I am honest to say that the growth is so tremendous. We are almost at par with many other countries.
NDTV: Among other things people want to know how soon would the ballistic missile Agni V be inducted because that is our key missile for delivery of such systems.
Dr Christopher: Very soon because as a matter of fact if everything goes well even in the near future we will conduct almost the final trial or the user trial.
NDTV: And then it can be inducted or is the user agency like always still involved with all these trials?
Dr Christopher: All these trials are totally with them. Without them we are not doing right. From the word go every part of it they are involved, so there is no uncertainty or ambiguity at all.
NDTV: So very soon Agni V will be inducted into the armed forces… as a weapon of peace?
Dr Christopher: Absolutely, all the strength is shown only to have peace. All these weaponries are to show strength and to gain peace.
NDTV: Among other one other area of the DRDO which attracts a lot of attention is the Main Battle Tank Arjun. While Arjun Mark-I is already there, what is the state of Arjun Mark-II?
Dr Christopher: Availability is enormously high and they call it a dessert Ferrari because the shock absorbers in that system are much better than the Russian system, so they do love it. In a similar fashion for Mark II, whatever you are going to make will be acceptable to them and we are going to get the existing indent will get energised and we will make 116 of them soon.
NDTV: Also, can you tell me a little bit about what we are doing in the future of unmanned warfare. People don’t want to put soldiers on the ground, in the air, or in ships wherever. Why are we so lagging behind in drone technology?
Dr Christopher: Unmanned is going to be the order of the day, no doubt. In 2030, we will have the maximum number of youth that no other country will have that is equivalent to us. It could be that that deficiency is one of the reasons why are they (foreign countries) are driving crazy on the unmanned front, but not only that, the life of any human being is much more precious.
NDTV: But so many countries are already deploying. Look at Afghanistan. The use of drones is so omnipresent. Why are we dragging our feet on drones? Let me put it a little more succinctly, for our viewers, see we build our own aircraft and we have our software and we have our cruise missile which can loiter, hover and can come back. Are we not completely drone ready? Why is there such delay that we are only stuck with Rustom II?
Dr Christopher: For instance, in Afghanistan, you said it is not Afghani planes that are going, it is somebody else’s planes being tried or the drones being tried. Another important point is that what has brought out is extremely good in Light Combat Aircraft. This is extremely important. It is of course an excellent plane because it is an unstably stable aircraft. It runs by the mission controller though the pilot is giving the control because it is such an unstable system. You give it one degree tilt, and within 200 millisecond it can go up to about 32 degrees. That is the swiftness the speed with which it is going to react. Consequently, what you need to do is you have to have a proper mechanism to do that so we have today in the LCA automatic takeoff and landing. Automatic take off is very much there. Flying safely is there today in the case of naval version of the LCA. All this like ski-jumping, flying the level version. It is all being done automatically and flying in level safely has been done automatically. But then for landing the last bit is some more pseudo lights and other things have to be put. We need to manage and see that it is lands properly. That is the only case that is pending. Even then there is a smaller vehicle we are making, that is the SWIFT in the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Bangalore. By this time next year we will have a SWIFT landing also.