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Sunday, December 18, 2011

SUNDAY SPECIAL: India's young air defence bravehearts say yeh dil maange more!

PART-IV

By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore/Hyderabad: They eat, sleep and breathe technology which is definitely rocket science for you and me. A Sehwag's double ton and Aishwarya's baby girl could in all probability be passed off as an India-at-a-glance-moment in their lives. Focused, fearless and feet firm on ground, they probably don't care for the Twitter tribe and the Facebook fellows. Presenting the perfect united colours of India, these young guns of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are currently the pillars of India’s Programme Air Defence (AD).
Hand-picked by the current DRDO chief V K Saraswat in the late 90s, these go-getters in their mid-30s come as a package consisting of networking and software specialists, control and guidance gurus, RF and navigation experts, hardware and propulsion mavericks, including warhead wizards. Though their bases are distributed over a number of DRDO labs across the country, for the first time ever a media house was given access to interact* with a group of AD brains recently. (*Conditions apply!)
Programme AD is the Indian version of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) shield – a mastery perfected by countries like the US, Israel, France and Russia. With the goal of developing a BMD, India has made late, yet significant progress since its formation, demonstrating tech and systems capabilities. So far, five successful ballistic missile intercept flight trials were held, resulting in the destruction of the 'incoming targets.' The first flight trial was held in 2006 November.
"Given our nation’s policy of No-First-Use, an effective missile shield is mandatory to protect our country from any ballistic missile attacks. We started afresh and all our ideas were first put in place. We were very young when we were specifically recruited for Programme AD by (Dr) Saraswat and he believed that fresh talent will have out-of-the-box ideas," says Guruprasad, hailing from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh.
There are close to 100 scientists working on Programme AD and most of them have joined DRDO as Scientists in B, C & D levels -- now holding very key positions. "What makes all the difference is the freedom at which we all work. AD is a very complex programme and highly technology-cum-software intense mission. We constantly upgrade our knowledge levels and undertake lifetime surveys on weapon systems," says Bhagyalakshmi, from Tanjavoor in Tamil Nadu.
Amidst the pressures of delivering AD systems to protect the nation, these youngsters said that they had to literally start from the scratch. “There was hardly any open literature available when we began and that didn't let us down. Our families know that we are working for a sensitive national programme and support us to the core. To me, this made all the difference,” says Shallab from Rohtak in Haryana.
All the ideas for Programme AD are deliberated upon at the System Engineering Committee (SEC) meet. "The threat perception varies from one country to another and your design has to be based upon the threat scenario you perceive. We cannot simply copy any other design," says Dheeraj Gupta from New Delhi.
Despite the bad branding the DRDO got over the years, Team AD seems to have stayed as closed-knit unit, undeterred by the carpet bombing by the media. "There's a lot of tech-bonding and we don't care much about what's being told about us. We are not too much into social network sites either, and there's a reason why we are not there," says Pooja from Shimla, among the first few who joined the AD mission. "Our friends working abroad want to get back and they constantly write to us. The times are changing and we know where we are heading for," she adds with a rare sense of confidence written all over her face.
(All names changed owing to security reasons. Permission was denied to shoot the young AD scientists, for not wanting them to be identified.)
(CRACKING INDIA'S MISSILE CODE is an exclusive series currently on in The New Indian Express. In the days ahead, you will get to read a mix of news-breaks and tech-upgrades on current and futuristic missile programs of India, in addition to some human-interest pieces. Email your thoughts on this long-range series to anantha.ak@gmail.com and point out factual errors, if any, that might have crept in despite my best efforts.)

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