Reporter Rajnath: When defence minister gave minute-by-minute news breaks on Rafale arrival

India’s Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh surprised everyone when he chose to be the breaking news point during the recent arrival of the first batch of five Rafales in Ambala.

Despite the restrictions in place for the media in and around the Ambala base, TV channels gave a carnival-of-sorts coverage ahead and during the touchdown of the Rafales. You could also have spotted reporters flying fighters in studios!

And, it is here the defence minister decided to make full use of his social media handles to give minute-to-minute updates on the arrival of the Rafales.

The information flow from the minister was flawless, and was ably backed by the publicity wings of the Ministry of Defence. There was no shortage for news whatsoever — just that every bit of news was coming out of the Twitter handle of Defence-Minister-cum-reporter Rajnath Singh. And not many were complaining.

Unsung DEBEL

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Bengaluru-based Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL) has been silently churning out several technologies offering solutions to combat the pandemic. Just that the efforts of DEBEL, under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), have not grabbed much attention in the PR exercise-driven world.

Among the technologies developed by DEBEL are a non-invasive automated breathing system, ventilators, patient transport chamber, protective garment, medical oxygen plant, inflatable isolation shelter, non-contact thermometer, vital sign monitors and air sterilization units, to name a few.

Many scientists at DEBEL have been working round-the-clock attending to the emergent requirements.

While the key contributions made by some of the labs might have missed the spotlight, there are many who are of the opinion that DRDO did an overdrive with COVID-19 PR campaign.

Many opined that some phases of the COVID-19 campaign gave an impression that everything is being done for publicity.

“It is high time proper focus is given to developing war-winning technologies and quality products for the services, which has been a constant concern over the years,” says a DRDO-watcher.

Similar sentiments were expressed by many on DRDO’s twitter handle as well.

Philosophical Aviator

Air Marshal Balakrishnan Suresh, who retired as the Air Officer Commanding in Chief (AOC-in-C) of Western Air Command (WAC) of Indian Air Force (IAF) on July 31 gave a philosophical reply when asked about missing out at the very last moment on becoming the Chief of Air Staff (CAS).

Air Marshal Balakrishnan Suresh

Air Marshal Suresh, who served in the IAF for close to 40 years, said the force has to carry on irrespective of who heads IAF.

“My father always used to tell me, quoting the Bhagavad Gita: You have a right to perform your duty, but you are not entitled to the fruit of action. Whatever happens, it happens for the best,” he said.

He went on to add that it was the government’s call and one has to respect the same. This was the first time the top-rated aviator of IAF commented on the developments of September 2019, which for the first time saw a section of India media going hammer and tongs over who should be the next CAS.

The top aviator’s HR skills seem to have touched many aviators in the IAF. “He is indeed a MiG Man. Also a man with a golden heart. An inspiration to me of course,” says a social media post.

Rustom Rises

Rustom-II (Tapas), the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Aeronautical Development Establishment flew in the Satellite Communication (SATCOM) mode for the first time.

Sources at DRDO headquarters confirm that the UAV also flew with the long range electro optical payload. They claim that these two capabilities are not available on the Heron and Searcher UAVs being operated by the tri-Services now.

The future of this UAV programme is still unclear, with the Services yet to give any firm commitment. Sources say the Tapas team is determined to prove several new capabilities during the next set of trials.

Uttam Ready

The home-grown Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar developed by Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) seems to be making the right moves to get the attention of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

With the addition of AESA radar being one of the key features of Tejas MK1A, LRDE hopes that Uttam can even meet the schedules of the upgraded programme.

It has already completed more than 100 hours of flying on a hired aircraft and nearly 25 hours on Tejas test platforms. It is now confirmed that Uttam’s air-to-air mode and its sub-mode functionalities have been already tested.

Uttam is in competition with the Israeli Elta radar and the official word is not yet out on the question of how many Tejas MK1As (total 83) will be fitted with the desi technology.

LRDE scientists are pinning their hopes on the Aatmanirbhar Bharat mandate.

Mentor Minister

For the designers and engineers of the HTT-40, the desi Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA) from the hangars of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was a mentor. Recently after the 106 HTT-40s were cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council, there were several who recalled the role played by Parrikar in boosting the project.

He reportedly established a direct rapport with the young HHT-40 team and always kept the project on his radar. He was present at the first official flight of HTT40 in June 2016.

Manohar Parrikar

Parrikar reviewed the project five times and gave freedom to the team heads to directly call him, if need be.

“Confidence and truthfulness are contagious. It spreads and inspires. Never lose it,” a team member recalls Parrikar’s words.

Your Take

There’s so much happening on the Aatmanirbhar Bharat campaign front as this column readies for its maiden flight. The Ministry of Defence just finished observing week-long (saptah) celebrations branding the event. Here are select comments.

* A drastic change has to be brought into all the forces. The Service Chiefs have the intent for encouraging indigenous industry. All Chiefs should now identify young, energetic, dynamic and passionate officers to occupy key positions in the indigenisation wings. You will then see a surge in the targets of Aatmanirbhar Bharat movement. (Raj Narayan, Businessman)

* Easier said than done. It would take 20-30 years for India to achieve self-reliance in defence if we start the journey in a focused manner. Need to chalk out a roadmap which would be followed in letter and spirit. Disciplinary action must against erring officials and huge investment in R&D and support for MSMEs key. (Kalyan Pramanick, UPSC aspirant)

Quote Note: Jingoism will take away our attention from reality. -- Dr Kota Harinarayana, Aerospace don

Landing Line: 1 plane, 1 billion experts – Tejas.

(Plane Talk column will make random appearances on your radar, armed with variety news captured from India’s aerospace and defence sector. The ‘Your Take’ segment is exclusively reserved to embed your views. The writer is an independent aerospace, defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)