ISRO And DRDO Deal Differently With Disastrous Launches

ISRO And DRDO Deal Differently With Disastrous Launches

ISRO And DRDO Deal Differently With Disastrous Launches
File photo: The doomed Agni-III Staff WritersNew Delhi, India (PTI) Jul 18, 2006It was a Black Sunday and an even worse Monday for India’s aerospace ambitions. Two much-hyped rocket systems – one the guided missile Agni-III, and another the GSLV-FO2 launch vehicle carrying a satellite – built by two famed institutions, (RDO and ISRO, landed in the sea, drowning with them years of effort and hundreds of crores of rupees.

It was a rare back-to-back failure and ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair was forthright on what could have gone wrong: “The pressure in one of the four strap-on motors dropped to zero and did not develop enough thrust, as a result the vehicle veered off the trajectory,” he said, adding that the failure was “a rarest phenomena”.

“One of the liquid strap-ons had a workmanship problem with the engine valve, leading to a shutdown after one second,” a source revealed.

Unlike ISRO, who even after the failure showed a genuine eagerness to share available information, there was total silence from the DRDO. An indifferent defense minister summed up the situation: “The take-off was successful … but there was some problem later.”
Repeated efforts to talk to DRDO officials in Hyderabad met with no success, though one scientist did say there could have been a “component flaw, but even that would be premature to say”.

ISRO and DRDO are studies in contrast, two high-profile organizations heavily funded by public money and trying to meet India’s goals of self-reliance in critical technology. The difference is one seems to have learned from its failures and has a brilliant track record, while the other seems lost.

Much of ISRO’s talent and innovation has been used by DRDO for its missile program, “but the spirit and resilience of ISRO was never transferred to DRDO even though conceptually there is proximity between the two,” said a scientist who has worked in both organizations.
What makes ISRO different? “The one great thing about ISRO is that it is extremely open, people are committed, they have faith in themselves and a failure is seen as a learning curve. Our reviews are open,” said ex-ISRO chairman U.R. Rao.

“Nowhere in the world will you find another organization like ISRO,” said another official. “Everything is done here from end to end. We do R&D; build satellites and launch vehicles; meet the specific requirements of our users and also process data.”
Of the 21 launches ISRO has attempted in India, only five have failed, the last in April 1994. This is a highly respected success rate, even globally. At DRDO, however, the missile program has been the only effort that has met with some success.

Now, with Agni-III’s failure, the Integrated Guided Missile Program, which began in 1983, has suffered a major setback. The Agni test, said DRDO sources, was supposed to give a technical push to the intercontinental missile program.

“DRDO has got into the problem of talking big and delivering little,” said a scientist, recalling how in 2003 the much touted short-range surface-to-air missile Trishul was dumped. DRDO had worked on it for 18 years and spent nearly Rs 300 crore. Other missiles in the IGM program – Akash and Nag (promised long ago and yet to be delivered) – already have consumed thousands of crores.

It is ironic the DRDO was set up to cut down on arms imports via indigenization. A few years ago, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had spoken of 70 percent self-reliance in defense requirements by 2005. That date and year have passed, and India is still a long way away from that goal.

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