Soaring successes in the Defence sector It was a hat-trick of sorts. In a busy week, India's missile scientists scored three successes. First, it was the launch of Shourya (Valour), the 750-km, short to intermediate range missile. Then came the Prithvi-II, a 350-km range, strategic missile. And, finally, Agni-II, the 2000-km, intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), all of which give a big boost to the country's defences. These launches were preceded by the first test of Prahaar (Strike) missile. The short-range, surface-to-surface, tactical missile with capability to carry 200 kg warhead filled an important gap in the Defence armoury. The events at the end of September indicated that the missile scientists have a high level of technological expertise and that industry can now provide them with more reliable products and systems. The recent successes of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will provide an impetus for the domestic industry to build long-term capacity and infrastructure as the prospect of more indigenous missiles getting inducted becomes stronger. For long, in the absence of key missile technology and components, many missile development projects suffered delays and cost over-runs. No wonder, then, that the Indian missile programme, effectively launched in 1982 as the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), with the objective of developing five missiles â€” Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag â€” was virtually closed after 25 years, with Prithvi and Agni 1 & 2 inducted. Trishul in the limbo and Nag in final stages of trials. Last year, Akash (the medium range surface-to-air) missile completed trials and is ready for induction. OVERCOMING TECHNICAL GLITCHES The Indian industry can also look at the latest wins on the missile front with greater hope and challenge. In the case of Agni-II, the success has clearly shown that the component glitches and problems faced in the last trial have been overcome this time. It testifies that the industry has put in place quality and reliability in the fabrication process, said Mr Avinash Chander, Chief Controller (R&D), missiles and strategic systems of the DRDO. He was quick to add, though, that: â€œOur industry needs to imbibe a culture of quality and reliability in all the processes to ensure that it delivers with consistency and matches global standardsâ€. Given the tremendous opportunities emerging in the Defence sector, especially in the light of the â€˜ Offset Clause' in big Defence contracts, which mandates that a minimum of 30 per cent of the project cost be sourced from within India, domestic industry has to develop the wherewithal to take on such contracts on its own strengths. At present, nearly 200 industries, both large private and public sector as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are involved with the missile development programme. It is heartening that most of the items, sub-systems and components are being fabricated by them, with Bharat Dynamics Limited doing the systems integration. The success of the mega defence projects proposed, which run into multi-billion dollars, could greatly benefit the industry, both Indian and global, though the challenge will be to create the infrastructure and manpower capability to complete them on time. PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS The process has begun, with public-private partnerships and the entry of corporates such as Tatas, Mahindras, Godrej's, L&T, into the sector. A large number of SMEs, too, are beefing up their facilities so that they can attract joint ventures. On the manpower front, there is hope for the DRDO. With a slump in the IT sector, more engineers are looking to enter the public sector and a massive recruitment drive is on. With the research and development budget not being a big issue, the focus now is on attracting young talent, making it attractive for industry to partner from the beginning in projects and developing key technologies quickly and efficiently. It is a daunting task, no doubt. But success should be a motivating factor; and the missile story will likely be followed by achievements in other areas by the DRDO.