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A MAN OF DESTINY - III                                            



Prof. K. A. V. Pandalai








          Due to the usual bureaucratic delays, several months passed before Kalam finally joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as the Director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) at Hyderabad on June 1, 1982. By that time, the famous atomic scientist Dr. Raja Ramanna, was succeeded as Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister by Dr. V.S. Arunachalam who was the Director of the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) at Hyderabad. A very dynamic person, he had earned a reputation as a knowledgeable metallurgist and a good administrator. 

          Kalam was aware of the work going on at DRDL in the indigenous development of missile systems. His first task before formulating an action plan, was to have detailed discussions with the scientists of DRDL, to evaluate the ongoing work. For these review meetings, he followed what Dr. Sarabhai used to do at Thumba, namely, bring in experts from outside institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science (IIS), IITs, CSIR, TRIF and so on. Thus he opened the window so that fresh air and new ideas could enter the laboratory. 

          Clearly, Kalam was making full use of all the lessons he had learnt at Thumba during his long service of about 20 years there. He had found that paticipative management was essential in executing complex projects like the SLV-3. 

          After much discussion, an action plan with a timeframe of 12 years and an estimated expenditure of Rs. 3900 million was drawn up and placed before the Government. Luckily at that time R. Venkataraman - who later became the President of India - was the Defence Minister. He had long years of experience both at the Centre and the State Government of Tamil Nadu and was a very knowledgeable and dynamic man. He was highly thought of by all including the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. 

          Kalam was asked to give a presentation at New Delhi. At a meeting presided over by the Defence Minister and attended by the three Service Chiefs, Dr. Arunachalam and other senior officials, proposals were made on the design of the heat shields for building long-range missiles in future. This was a project that interested Kalam very much. 

          Everybody present at the meeting was quite excited about these proposals. At the end of the meeting the Defence Minister asked Kalam and Dr. Arunachalam to meet him later in the evening. At this meeting the Minister asked for an Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), and that too, by the next morning! It was indeed a tall order. But Kalam and Arunachalam worked the whole night and produced an action plan. The minister quickly cleared the proposal. 

          The Defence Minister secured expeditious Cabinet approval for the IGMDP with a sanction of Rs. 3880 million. The news electrified the DRDL scientists. Five missiles were to be built: the surface-to-surface missile Prithvi; the tactical core missile called Trishul; the surface-to-air medium-range missile Akash; the anti-tank missile Nag; and the IRBM named Agni which involved the design and development of a re-entry vehicle.

          The IGMDP was finally launched by Arunachalam at DRDL on July 27, 1983. Not only did all the staff of DRDL participate in this meeting but so too did a large number of scientists and experts from several laboratories and academic institutions in the country and officers from the armed forces. 

          Kalam who had played a leading role in the design and development of SLV-3, which successfully launched the Rohini satellite on July 18,1980, was now taking on a much more complex and difficult project, namely, the IGMDP, and that too just about a year after he had joined the DRDL. Perhaps Kalam’s finest hour was the period he spent (about ten years) at DRDL, executing the IGMDP. 

          The atmosphere in the eighties at the DRDL was very similar to that at Thumba during the sixties and seventies. Kalam could capitalise on the tremendous enthusiasm, exuberance and the strong desire on the part of all concerned to make a grand success of the IGMDP. He took his own time in selecting competent leaders for the five missile projects, from among the many talented scientists that DRDL had. 

          Using the consortium approach, he involved several institutions and organisations scattered all over the country to carry out various tasks directly related to the IGMDP. Through concurrent engineering, the period required to execute the project was reduced to the minimum possible. All the lessons learnt at Thumba stood him in good stead in the execution of the most complex and challenging project ever undertaken in the country. 

          A site had to be selected for the missile flight trials. It was finally decided to select Balasore in Orissa state as the Interim Test Range (ITR) which was made an independent establishment to be got ready by December, 1986. As a bachelor and a workaholic, Kalam could devote about 90 hours a week for his work. 

          In the meantime, a sixth project was added to the five missiles of the IGMDP. This involved the establishment of a high technology research centre with very advanced technical facilities. This was located at the Imarat Kancha area near DRDL, and was named Research Centre Imarat (RCI). To establish such a research centre in three years was indeed a gigantic task. 

          The Defence Minister visited the DRDL in September, 1983, to get to know first hand the progress of IGMDP. He monitored the programme closely and gave his full support to all those working on this programme. 

          The first test of the indigenously developed inertial guidance system was carried out successfully on June 26, 1984. This system was based on a project named DEVIL that was initiated at DRDL in the late seventies, after suitable modifications and improvements. The successful test was universally hailed. 

          Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on hearing this good news, decided to visit DRDL. A strong, dynamic lady, her visit the following month, and her speech to the staff of DRDL, helped considerably to boost their morale. When she asked Kalam for the schedule for the first test flight of the missile that they were working on, he said: “June 1987”. She promised all help to meet this schedule, and wanted results fast, without sacrificing excellence. 

          The management techniques evolved by Kalam were “home-grown”, but effective. Close monitoring of the project from New Delhi made all concerned at DRDL work with speed and enthusiasm. Dr. Arunachalam carried out a full-fledged status review on September 27, 1984. 

          The consortium approach was used to bring in 12 academic institutions, 30 DRDO laboratories, many CSIR laboratories, ISRO and a number of Indian industries. More than 50 professors and 100 research scholars in various academic institutions in the country were working on missile-related R&D problems. Campus interviews were speedily organised to recruit about 300 young talented engineers. Speedy execution went side by side with the pursuit of excellence, as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had advised. 

          After the unfortunate assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi, who became the Prime Minister, visited DRDL on August 3, 1985, by which time very good progress had been made in completing the groundwork for building the Missile Technology Research Centre at Imarat Kancha. The new Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of RCI and encouraged all concerned to go ahead full steam with the IGMDP. 

          To put obstacles in the way of countries like India, from developing satellite launch vehicles, missiles and so on, seven advanced nations led by America formed in 1987 a cartel named “Missile Technology Control Regime” (MTCR). Another strategy was to organise the “Enhanced Control Proliferation Initiative” in terms of which all missiles irrespective of range and payload were not to be produced or developed by countries like India. In December, 1995, many civilian technologies and even conventional arms were brought within the ambit of these controls. 

          Undoubtedly, the MTCR and other control regimes affected the progress of ISRO’s launch vehicles and DRDO’s IGMDP. But they could not completely stop these programmes as we were determined to build the required technological strength indigenously. 

          One or two examples illustrate the point. In 1986, the DRDO needed a super computer for speedy designing of missiles and aircraft. Kalam and the then Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister visited the Pentagon in the U.S.A. to buy the CRAY-XMP super computer which had 55 Mega Flops capability. The Pentagon refused to sell this computer, not only to DRDO but also to the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Undeterred, DRDO established an exclusive facility for development of fast processing computer, and within three years, developed a super computer of a class comparable to the CRAY-XMP. 

          One more example of the imposition of the MTRC curbs was the arm-twisting of Russia by America to terminate the agreement signed with India to supply cryogenic rocket engines required for ISRO’s GSLV ostensibly to discourage the possible development of an ICBM by India. India started indigenous development of the required cryogenic engine three years back. This project, it is reported, is progressing rapidly and by 2000, the Indian cryogenic rocket engine is expected to be ready. 

          Because of these control regimes, the DRDO is working on the development of key technologies indigenously by “networking” the DRDO hub with space and scientific laboratories, academic institutions and high-tech private industries, in the public and private sectors. About 78 institutions/organisations and industries in the country are said to be associated with this venture. DRDO is said to have already taken pro-active countermeasures in anticipation of the restrictions that may be imposed by MTCR and other such restrictions. There is after all no substitute for self-reliance.

          The Indian missile programme is also one of the most cost-effective in the world. The amount sanctioned in 1983 was Rs. 3880 million. Later on, this was revised to Rs. 7840 million with a foreign exchange component of Rs. 2910 million. 

          Take for example the Agni missile which is a re-entry test vehicle intended for technology demonstrations to establish long-range missile capability. It used a solid propulsion booster derived from SLV-3 and a liquid propulsion upper stage derived from Prithvi. Its strap-down inertial navigation system was attempted for the first time in the world. 

          Its heat shield that is meant to protect the payload during the re-entry phase, is an all-carbon composite structure. This writer, along with two of his colleagues, worked on the analysis and design of the Agni heat shield along with two of his colleagues at the FRP Research Centre of IIT, Madras, in the mid-eighties. 

          It was the first time in the world that such an all-composite (carbon-carbon) heat shield used for missiles had a metallic sub-structure whereas the Agni missile heat shield did not have such a metallic sub-structure. In actual flight, the performance of the heat shield was found to be very good. 

          The team involved felt confident of designing  a heat shield for an ICBM if called upon to do so. The first flight of the Agni missile (an IRBM) was conducted in May, 1989, about six years after the IGMDP was launched, and it established the re-entry technology and precise guidance for reaching the intended target. 

          The Agni missile, with a range of 2,500 km, has since been successfully test-fired several times. Six to eight tests are required in the second phase to ensure the missile’s accuracy. This will have to start soon in the wake of Pakistan’s successful launch of the Haft 3 missile. 

          The existing Agni missile can be used to develop an augmented/stretched version with a range of 3,000 km or more to develop an ICBM with a range of 5,000 km. 

          If the Agni missile had to be developed from scratch, it is estimated that such an effort would have cost Rs. 4000 million and would have taken nearly ten years.. But thanks to the multi-institutional partnership and utilising developed systems and infrastructure, the Agni missile project cost only Rs. 350 million and was executed within six years. 

          The message is that using the consortium approach and concurrent engineering, complex projects can be carried out faster and at less cost. This will apply in particular to the hyper plane project that has been jointly taken up by DRDO and ISRO.

          Much of the credit for the grand success of the IGMDP should go to Kalam, the captain of the team who headed the DRDL for about ten years, before he was called upon, in July, 1992 - to shoulder greater responsibilites as the Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Secretary, Department of Defence R&D. 

          This does not men that the work related to missiles will be affected in any way. After all, DRDL is one of the laboratories of DRDO headed by Kalam. If anything, further developments in the missile field can be expected. These include stretched or augmented versions of the five missiles already developed including Agni, and new ones which may include an ICBM, as suggested by some senior officials of the defence services. 

          Since Kalam joined as its head about five years back, DRDO has been responsible for critical defence-related R&D efforts, and done commendable work in spite of the large number of scientists and engineers who have left it, lured by lucrative openings offered by multi-nationals. Ways and means to make up this loss have to be devised and implemented quickly lest the large number of about 370 projects that the DRDO has on hand, do not suffer seriously. These include not only the IGMDP, but also the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA) project. 

          Thanks to his dedication, commitment and workaholic nature, Kalam has done an outstanding job since he moved to New Delhi as the Scientific Advisor. He is not the type of person who is lured by greener pastures or material things. He always remembers his “roots” and his humble beginnings. 

          His humanitarian nature is reflected in the Society of Biomedical Technology (SBMT) that he helped set up about four years back. The main objective of this Society is to bring together medical professionals and DRDO scientists and engineers and make them work on a variety of products that the common man, particularly the poor, need. 

          The Orthotic appliances (floor reaction orthosis) developed for paraplegics at one-third the cost of imported ones, is a case in ppoint. The Cardiovascular Technology Institute (CTI), promoted by a leading cardiologist, Dr. B. Somaraju, “aims at developing cost-effective indigenous substitutes for imported consumables” and is coming up at Hyderabad. 

          The incidence of heart disease in India is higher compared to that in the U.S. But many people cannnot afford cardiac care in India. To make it affordable, the noted cardiologist Dr. Somaraju of Hyderabad along with Kalam have developed a metallic stent called the “Kalam-Raju Stent”. 

          This indigenously developed stent is available for Rs. 15,000 inclusive of all taxes. Contrast this with an imported one that costs between Rs. 50,000 and 75,000. The dependence on imported consumables, says Dr. Somaraju is due to lack of interaction in India amongst the technologists and engineers, medical professionals and industry, apart from lack of integrated facilities to evolve a design for clinical evaluation and validation. The CTI intends to fill this void through collaborative efforts. It is significant that Kalam has played a key role in setting up the SBMT and the CTI. 

          Kalam will ever remain a deeply religious person, always remembering his lower middle-class origins, his birth in his ancestral house in Mosque Street in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, who, as a young boy, helped his brother collect tamarind seeds which were sold in bulk in the market. Vacation meant assisting his brother in his small store selling newspapers and cigarettes. 

          By sheer determination, dedication, commitment and hard work, he came up in life and helped build India’s first satellite launch vehicle (SVL-3) and became the father of the successful Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme of India in spite of cartels like Missile Technology Control Regime. He is not a person who is lured by materialism, consumerism, ostentation or greener pastures that attract many. He can be expected to continue with his austere living and high thinking - the Gandhian missile man. 


          Three important events in 1998 deserve to be mentioned. 

          The Investiture Ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on March 1, 1998, was a grand and solemn function. Dr. Kalam had invited this writer specially to attend the function. Another special invitee was Prof. S. Dhawan, former Chairman of ISRO, under whom Dr. Kalam had worked for nearly ten years at the Space Centre in Trivandrum, in the seventies. 

          This was typical of Dr. Kalam’s nature. I had been his teacher way back in the mid-fifties. Yet we have kept in close contact with each other for over 43 years!! He had worked with Prof. Dhawan in the seventies, but he always remembers his valuable guidance and advice during the difficult years when Kalam was responsible for the development of SLV-3.

          It was an emotional moment for this writer when the President presented the Bharat Ratna award ceremoniously to Kalam. Today Dr. Kalam is the only person from the Indian scientific community to get the nation’s highest civilian award. 

          The second event that needs highlighting is Kalam’s contribution to the successful nuclear explosions by India in May, 1998. Although Kalam is not a nuclear scientist, he, as the head of DRDO was closely associated with this development. What makes this nuclear explosion special is the fact that not only fission bombs (atom bombs), but also at least one thermonuclear (fusion) bomb were successfully exploded - an achievement of the highest scientific and technological order for India. 

          Finally, the human side of Kalam and his concern for fellow human beings is well reflected in the Society for Bio-Medical Technology (mentioned earlier) that he helped to set up. This has further been spelt out in his recent book India 2020: A Vision For a New Millenium which is co-authored with the well-known scientist Y.S. Rajan. His main argument can be summed up in his words:  

“A developed India by 2020, or even earlier, is not a dream. It need not even be a mere vision in the minds of many Indians. It is a mission we can all take up - and succeed”.  

He shows in this book how India can be the fourth leading nation in the world by 2020, and convincingly argues that through the use of technology - which is going to b much more of a driving force in future than it is today - India can become a leading nation in the world. 

          Let us hope that what seems certainly possible, comes true.



Excerpted with permission from:
Palm Beach Apartment
J.P. Road
Mumbai 400 061.


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