Overruling a DRDO decision, Defence Minister AK Antony has come to the rescue of India’s top missile scientist and head of the prestigious Brahmos missile project by recommending him for an extension of service.
A Sivathanu Pillai, who scripted one of India’s few missile success stories as CEO of Brahmos Aerospace, was earlier denied a service extension — seen as routine for eminent scientists engaged in important projects — by a peer review committee consisting of top DRDO scientists.
Pillai, due to retire on Tuesday, will now continue on his present role as Chief Controller (Research and Development) and CEO of Brahmos till the Cabinet Committee on Appointments decides the quantum of extension.
Insiders say the unusual interference by the Defence Ministry came after Pillai was being shunted out on the insistence of DRDO chief M Natarajan, considered the key man behind the Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT) project.
Sources say while most senior scientists engaged in top projects are routinely recommended for extension, Pillai’s case was not considered by the DRDO chief till the ministry intervened in July, apparently due to some friction between them.
However, a peer review committee set up by Natarajan on the insistence of the Defence Secretary also decided against Pillai’s extension, forcing a ministerial intervention for retaining the top missile man.
As CEO and Managing Director of the Indo-Russian Brahmos Aerospace Private Limited, Pillai has been instrumental in successfully developing the Brahmos cruise missile. The supersonic missile, in service with the Navy, was recently inducted into the Army almost a year ahead of schedule with an aerial and submarine version currently under development.
Sources say the ministry took cognizance of his work at Brahmos — one of the few DRDO projects not plagued by time delays and constant cost overruns — in deciding on the extension.
Meanwhile, Natarajan called upon Antony on Monday morning after news about the ministry’s decision came, reportedly to register his protest against the move.