The government has made the first substantive move to galvanise the indigenous design and development of high-technology military systems by appointing a 52-year-old scientist as the advisor to the defence ministry.
G Satheesh Reddy was on Thursday made the scientific advisor to the Raksha Mantri (SA to RM). At the same time, S Christopher was appointed the director general, DRDO (DG DRDO), and concurrently the secretary (defence R&D).
This is the first time the government has bifurcated the three posts, usually held by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief. In so doing, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has provided for himself a dedicated personal advisor on technology issues.
"This is a good measure," said a former DRDO chief, speaking anonymously. "When the DRDO recommends something, the defence minister will now have an advisor who can independently explain to him the pros and cons."
DRDO scientists Business Standard spoke to have expressed happiness at the bold selection of Reddy as SA to RM, though he is the youngest of the DRDO's 12 "distinguished scientists", the seniormost scientists' grade. "Reddy is not just a top technologist, but is also in touch with the younger DRDO scientists. This gives him a great perspective on issues relating to the organisation," says a mid-ranking DRDO officer.
The new DRDO chief, Christopher, also brings to the office an impressive record of success. The head of the Centre for Airborne Systems in Bengaluru has spent the last decade masterminding the project to develop an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system for the Air Force (IAF). India imports such systems.
The AEW&C consists of an airborne radar mounted externally on an Embraer executive jet. Currently at an advanced stage of testing, it will be used in wartime to monitor airspace and control the aerial battle, allowing air force controllers to digitally direct IAF aircraft against enemy aircraft that they detect.
Christopher, just short of 60 years, has been appointed for two years to the two positions. Reddy has also been appointed SA to RM for two years, which positions him to be appointed DRDO chief after Christopher retires.
Christopher's office in DRDO Bhavan has been vacant since February 1, when his predecessor, Avinash Chander, retired. Chander had been granted an 18-month extension on November 28, to head the DRDO till May 31, 2016. However that extension was withdrawn with effect from January 31.
While Christopher walks into an empty office, Reddy will have to create office infrastructure and staff for himself. So far, the SA to RM has operated from DRDO Bhavan; now he will operate from an independent office in South Block.
The DRDO's new chief faces significant challenges, given the Make in India rubric of the government. Key projects with the DRDO include the Tejas Mark II fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun system, the Arjun Mark II tank, the Advanced Technology Vessel (nuclear submarine) and the AEW&C project.
The DRDO is also under pressure to restructure and become more task-oriented, with recommendations still to be implemented from the Rama Rao Committee report.