“The technological advancements in the Indian Defence sector are at around 80 percent of that in major defence oriented countries like the USA”

About the Expert:

Dr. Samir V. Kamat is currently the Director General, Naval Systems and Materials, Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). He received his B.Tech in Metallurgical Engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 1985 and Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1988. He has published more than 180 papers in peer reviewed International Journals.

Dr. Samir V Kamat. Credits: DRDO

“ The technological advancements in the Indian Defence sector are at around 80 percent of that in major defence oriented countries like the USA”, states Dr. Samir V Kamat, Director General, Naval Systems and Materials, Defence Research and Development Organization [DRDO]. Currently the 6th largest country in terms of defence spending, India is the largest importer of arms in the world, accounting for 14% of the Global Share of Imports between 2011-2015.

This calls for greater investment in defence research in India and Dr. Kamat feels that, R&D which is not deemed as lucrative a career in terms of money, needs to invite passionate young individuals into it. The promotion it requires needs to happen at the school level and Universities have to align themselves with this vision.

In terms of materials research however, he says India can make any material with properties similar to the best in the world but may choose not to, to save upon costs.

DRDO, India’s premiere agency for military research and development works on the complete process of research, indigenizing the materials and developing certified techniques to manufacture components out of it. Emphasis is being laid on developing more and more inside the country through various schemes one such being the ‘Make in India’.

As Dr Kamat explains, according to this initiative, the first preference is given to buying the required product within the country. If unavailable, the product or material can be imported and the necessary measures have to be taken to learn and start the production in-house. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the design and development happens inside the country.

Due to the enormous support to this campaign by the Government of India, a large number of private companies are supplementing the pre-existing PSU’s and ordnance factories in defence technology advancements. This comes at the right time to make the best utilization of the disruptions that new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence have created in the defence sector. Many of the previously manned systems are being automated thus radicalizing the nature of warfare.

“Ultimately, technology is the war-winner and everyone wants to maintain an edge."

“Make India prosperous by establishing world class science and technology base and provide our Defence Services decisive edge by equipping them with internationally competitive systems and solutions” reads the vision statement of DRDO.

Arguably, one of the best ways to achieve peace is to be the strongest. One of the major challenges for materials research is that it necessitates a futuristic approach because of its time demand. One needs to look 15 years down the line to understand the possible material requirements. The process is tedious beginning with intense study of global literature and is finalized only when the material and the technique is reliable, stabilized and certified after passing through a series of tests in different batches and proving on an industrial scale, that the properties are above the minimum in all of those batches.

Material development which used to be an empirical approach has been revolutionized with the advent of modelling techniques where it is possible to build a material without conducting experiments. Any new material takes about 10-15 years till it comes to the development stage, whereas weapon development takes around 4-5 years. However with modern techniques this has drastically reduced to 8 years.

United States has launched The Material Genome Initiative- “ a multi-agency initiative designed to create a new era of policy, resources, and infrastructure that support U.S. institutions in the effort to discover, manufacture, and deploy advanced materials twice as fast, at a fraction of the cost.”

This in effect should successfully match the time cycles of both the material and weapon development to roughly 4-5 years. The strategic goals of the MGI is to integrate experiments, computation, and theory, to facilitate access to materials data, to equip the next-generation materials workforce and to enable a paradigm shift in materials development.

Defence research in any country is non-negotiable and hence the pace of discovery and deployment of advanced material systems are absolutely necessary to achieve global competitiveness. India is on the rise but more needs to be done within and more needs to be done faster.