Bengaluru, Jan 16: Two days after owning up the responsibility for recommending the contract termination of India's top missile brain and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chief Dr Avinash Chander, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will touchdown in Bengaluru on January 17 morning for the review of critical projects.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources told OneIndia that Parrikar's office, currently facing the heat for targeting one of the most-revered defence scientists in India, has given instructions not to have any media interaction during his lightning one-day visit.
He is expected to visit the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) during the first half of the day.
Empowered Committee on LCA meeting
OneIndia has learnt that Parrikar, who is still getting a grip of various projects under his command, will chair a meeting of Empowered Committee that looks into the progress of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas.
"The minister is getting an orientation of all defence programmes. His primary mission is to see whether any of the ongoing defence projects need additional support from the MoD. The minister is keen that no project should be left hanging for want of our support," an official in the MoD said.
At ADA, Parrikar is expected to be given a complete presentation on LCA project. "The Empowered Committee on LCA is normally chaired by the Indian Air Force Chief and this time it will be the minister. The minister will take a look at the achievements so far. He would also want to know the pending points of FOC (Final Operational Clearance)," the official said. The Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha will also be present during the review.
Parrikar had last month stated that the Tejas will be given the FOC at the end of 2015 and is expected to share his ideas to fasten the project. He is said to have studied the problems that contributed to the delay and is expected to seek some explanations from the ADA-HAL combo.
Aero-cluster review also being lined up
Parrikar is also expected to review the progress of DRDO Aero-cluster with most of the labs being situated in Bengaluru. Projects like the Prying plane (Airborne Early Warning & Control and System), Rustom UAV, Nirbhay missile, engines for future projects and AMCA will be reviewed by the minister.
The minister is scheduled to visit Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) during the second half of Saturday. He is expected to return to Delhi on Saturday evening.
A low-key Tejas handing over event likely
HAL is leaving no stone unturned to make the minister's visit a memorable one. Parrikar will be shown HAL's helicopter manufacturing capabilities.
"He will also be visiting the LCA series production (SP) manufacturing facilities being set up by HAL. The first SP-1 Tejas is likely to be handed over to IAF on the occasion," an HAL official said.
However, an IAF official confirmed to OneIndia that the handing over will be a symbolic affair with the aircraft having completed only four flights so far. "It's so far flown by an ADA Test Pilot and there's more work left before it can be handed over," the official said.
The handing over of SP-1 will set the induction process rolling for the IAF.
HAL's proposal with MoD
As reported in these columns earlier, HAL had submitted a proposal to MoD for augmenting the production of Tejas from eight per year to sixteen.
"We have submitted the proposal at the cost of Rs 1200 crore and are hopeful of completing the process in 30 months," an HAL director said.
He said the Company is seeking no funding from government for the augmentation of Tejas series production. "We will fund 50 per cent of the total cost with the remaining 25 per cent each expected to come from the IAF and the Navy," he added.
Parrikar is also expected to be brief about the record number of patents being filed by HAL in the last 2 years. "In 2012-13 we filed 71 patents and in 2013-14 it stood at 209. In 2014-15 alone we have filed 773 patents and this shows the shift in HAL's focus towards excellence in multiple areas," the director said. HAL is also lining up a flying display of Tejas, Dhruv and LCH for the minister.
Dr Avninash Chander to be absent
DRDO Chief Dr Avninash Chander will be conspicuous by his absence during Parrikar's maiden visit to ADA and HAL. The outgoing scientist is expected to be temporarily replaced by Dr K Tamilmani, currently Director-General (Aero) in DRDO. Dr Avinash is said to have conducted some review meetings in Hyderabad on Friday. Dr Tamilmani's orders are expected to be issued shortly.
The government has already begun the hunt for identifying the next DRDO Chief. The immediate focus is to ensure that none of the ongoing programmes are affected by the changes.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)