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Updated: September 17, 2012 19:41 IST

Spin-offs of weapons research

B. S. Warrier
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Cutting edge: Agni-II soars into the sky, a proud moment for the DRDO.
Cutting edge: Agni-II soars into the sky, a proud moment for the DRDO.

A look at the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which heads scientific and technological research for defence purposes in India with a wide network of nearly 50 laboratories.

“Peace has its victories no less than war, but it doesn’t have as many monuments to unveil,” said Kin Hubbard, American humorist. We may add to this that war is often the mother of inventions that offer us a better life during peace. War and threat of war lead to great contributions to science and foster technology. When warfare progresses in the field, there is a war between scientific minds as well.

The Second World War witnessed numerous scientific innovations. We know that the evolution and development of nuclear power, rocketry, computers, and radar has much to do with defence efforts and warfare.

There are indeed innovations with everyday applications as well. To cite an instance, the cavity magnetron was developed for radar use in 1940. But now it forms the power source of the domestic microwave oven. Advances in the Geographic Imaging System with numerous everyday applications, studies on meteorology and several life-saving drugs are some of the spin-offs of defence research as well at the global level.

The sanitary napkins used by women evolved from the cellulose cotton brought out by a paper manufacturing company to be used as a superabsorbent bandaging material for injured soldiers in the First World War. The military nurses were the first to use it as tampons.

If we go back a few steps in history, we will come across legendary geniuses like Archimedes and Leonardo da Vinci who through their scientific minds enriched the arsenal of their countries. Archimedes is said to have focussed sunlight and heat at wooden Roman ships, using polished metallic parabolic mirrors and burnt the ships through the intense beam.

Though that might be a fable, he must have at least successfully blinded the enemy rowers and disoriented and deflected them away from his coast. Leonardo da Vinci has been credited with designing the first war tank. He developed giant catapults, crossbows and hand-held weapons. In modern times, there is perhaps a reversal of roles in some countries.

The demands of war influence the style and stress of scientific research in many cases, thereby distorting its basic objectives. Healthy priorities get disturbed. The focus shifts from studying nature to manipulating surroundings, from enquiry to management, from observation to goal-oriented efforts. Modern scientists, in a straightjacket laboratory atmosphere with hierarchical compulsions, may sometimes become careerists and bureaucrats more than seekers of truth. There is a general feeling that science research has become a male bastion with emotional aloofness and little empathy. This may enhance the orientation of science to military needs. When funding comes from military sources, science research naturally becomes subservient to war efforts. When we say this, we should not forget great scientists like Albert Einstein who opposed war per se.

Subjects such as nuclear physics and projectiles have enhanced the prestige of science because of their military applications. Even the research in our Indian Space Research Organisation has military implications. War is indeed a form of organised violence with the blessings of the State. The objective may not always be territorial expansion.

Grabbing natural resources, including mineral wealth, settling ethnic or religious scores or establishing authority for raising one’s stature may be the motive behind military adventures. Be that as it may, every country has to make determined efforts to maintain its territorial integrity, by keeping the latest military equipment for defence. The role of science research in this endeavour becomes crucial, since the use of the best technology for its protection is the first priority for any country. Science research thereby becomes an integral part of national defence. The marriage of civilian scientific research and military operations became prominent probably with the landmark “Fido,” the air-dropped anti-submarine torpedo used against the Germans and the Japanese in the Second World War. The journey of science and defence hand in hand continues on and on.

Wide network

In our country, the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation; Website: heads scientific and technological research for defence purposes. It has a wide network of nearly 50 laboratories covering diverse disciplines which meet the varied demands of the three wings of our armed forces. The DRDO was formed in 1958 by the amalgamation three establishments: Technical Development Establishment of the Indian Army; Directorate of Technical Development and Production; and Defence Science Organisation.

The DRDO is engaged in developing defence technologies covering various disciplines, including the following: aeronautics, armaments, electronics, combat vehicles, engineering systems, instrumentation, missiles, advanced computing and simulation, special materials, naval systems, life sciences, training, information systems, and agriculture.

Some of the achievements and innovations of the organisation are as follows:

Air-Borne Telemetry Receiving System; All Electric Type Weapon Control System for Infantry Combat Vehicle; Antenna Systems; Bhima; Biomedical Devices for Internal Use (Implants); Biomedical Devices for External Use; Briefcase SATCOM Terminal for voice/fax/data services; Code Programme; Diagnostic Products for Infection Imaging; EOCM-Class Laser System; Explosive Reactive Armour; Fin-Stabilised Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot Ammunition; Indigenous X-ray Industrial Tomography System; Integrated Weapon System Simulation; Kaveri Engine; Lakshya; Laser Warning Sensors; Light Combat Aircraft; Manipulator Arm; MBT Arjun; Missiles (Agni, Prithvi, Nag, Trishul, Akash); MMIC; Model-Based Data Fusion; Naval Weapon Systems; Nishant; Palmtop Green Microchip Laser Module; Pan/Tilt Platform for Vision Systems; Pinaka; Radiation Protection Products; Rajendra Radar; Rapid Quantification and Detection Techniques for Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables; Recovery Parachute System For Light Combat Aircraft; Sangraha; Sanyukta; Special Materials; Technology for Dengue Control; Technology for Titanium Sponge Production.

Brief notes on these are available on the DRDO website under the link “Major Products & Technologies.”


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