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From manning missiles to HR, women power rising in defence R&D, production

Women have been steadily rising in power in India’s defence research sector. From the most prominent Agni missile project to manning human resources, women have surged ahead in a sector that was dominated for long by men.

If Tessy Thomas shot to popularity as the ‘Agni Putri’, or Missile Woman, after the successful launch of the long distance Agni-4 missile in 2011, nearly a dozen women today drive projects — from those of strategic importance to taking care of planning and coordination — at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Beginning in 2010, when Shashi Bala Singh became the first woman to be appointed director of a major national defence laboratory — Defence Institute for Physiology and Applied Sciences (DIPAS) — women have silently and successfully grabbed key positions in the defence sector.

At present, four Director General (a dozen in DRDO), five directors of laboratories (network of more than 52 labs) and a couple of project director positions are held by women, according to information available.

To top it all, the country also has a woman Defence Minister in Nirmala Sitharaman.

The first to scale the highest position of DG R&D (Electronics & Communications Systems) was J Manjula in September 2015. A post graduate from the Osmania University and expert in electronic warfare, Manjula drives strategic indigenous developments in electronics and sensors, a sector where India falls short.

Manjula plays a catalytic role in synergising teams and their strength in different labs involved in electronics, radars and opto electronics. She draws on experience from her past stint at the public sector ECIL and Defence Electronics Laboratory, Hyderabad.

Playing a prominent role in the strategic areas are Shashikala Sinha, Project Director of the Interceptor Missile mission, Chitra Rajagopal, D-G in-charge of Systems Analysis and Modelling and Tessy Thomas, Agni IV Project Director and Director of Advanced Systems Laboratory.

Shashikala’s team has accomplished significant strides in the development of the Advanced Air Defence Missile, part of the Ballistic Missile System, for the country. She has expertise in working with RF sensors, advanced coding and programming and has won several awards in her 20-year stint with the DRDO.

Chitra Rajagopal excels in design and development of heat transfer equipment and combustion. She has to her credit scores of scientific publications, 12 patents and two technologies transferred to industries. A doctorate from IIT, Delhi, Chitra is also associated with the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, UN.

Laboratory Directors ::

Among those heading national laboratories, Manimozhi Theodore, a Madras University Engineering graduate, heads the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Bengaluru since June 2017.

She makes significant contributions in the field of net Centric C3I Systems, Communications Systems and quality assurance. At another end of the spectrum is Madhubala who leads the Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research), Haldwani in Uttarakhand.

While Anu Khosla, an expert in cryptology and speech technology, drives the developments at the Delhi-based Scientific Analysis Group, Alka Suri, Director of the Defence Scientific Documentation Centre, New Delhi, takes care of the publications and documentation of the work of thousands of scientists.

One of the early contributors to technologies in the Agni Missile was Rohini Devi, who was instrumental in establishing the Composite Production Centre, as part of the Advanced Systems Ltd, Hyderabad.

The backbone behind DRDO’s human resources is Hina Gokhale, who assumed charge in July 2017. The organisation has been facing tough times both in attracting the best talent and also stemming attrition rate to drive its projects. With around 5,000 scientists and over 25,000 employees on its rolls, it is a major employer for careers in the country.

Planning and coordination ::

In the planning and coordination responsibilities, two women who don important roles are Nabanita Radhakrishnan, Director, since 2013 in Planning and coordination of all defence projects and Chandrika Kaushik, interacting with defence services.

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