Defence production for the Indian Armed Forces under the ‘Make in India’ initiative provides state-of-the-art equipment, which matches the world’s best in many cases. It exceeds the specifications of the corresponding world platforms. This is amply demonstrated by other nations seeking many such weapons and equipment.
Indian innovation empowering the world
For the first time, the Indian defence industry is participating in the global supply chain in a significant way. It is supplying to leading Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide, which is a testament to Indian products’ quality and workmanship. This is evident from the fact that nearly 50 percent of the Indian defence exports from the Indian defence industry are going to leading OEMs in the USA. The US Sealift Command, which has started sending naval ships to Indian shipyards, has found the capability of Indian shipyards to meet the highest standards in the world.
Not only in defence production, the innovation ecosystem developed under the iDEX programme, as well as Make-2 and DRDO programmes, is attracting interest from leading countries worldwide, including the USA, UK and Australia, apart from several others in Asia and Africa. India is developing defence technologies that are on the cutting edge for the first time, sometimes exceeding the best the world has seen so far.
For instance, the non-hackable quantum channel created by a start-up with a hop of 150 km on a terrestrial optical fibre infrastructure bests the 90 km of similar hop achieved worldwide. India is also working towards greater innovation and manufacturing prowess when it comes to drones. The focus is on creating some global firsts in this field as well.
Why is indigenisation important?
With indigenous weapons and platforms, a new dimension is added to their capabilities. They have an advantage over the adversary since indigenously developed niche capabilities can remain unknown to the enemy- something that is not possible with imported off-the-shelf equipment.
Such capabilities have been achieved due to proactive initiatives taken by all three services in the last two years. The latest addition to the indigenisation efforts was the aircraft carrier commissioned last week. Designed by the Indian Navy, it was manufactured by Cochin Shipyard, catapulting India into the league of a small group of nations who have the capability to design and build aircraft carriers.
The rapid success achieved in development of military equipment is also in part to the credit of public-private partnership (PPP). Nagpur-based Economic Explosives (EEL) serves as a prime example. EEL’s Dr Manjit Singh, Director R&D told the Financial Express Online that the company has created Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System in collaboration with DRDO; state-of-the art Multi-Mode Hand Grenades with a reliability of 99.82; HE/I ammunition for AK 630 gun, the main CRAA gun of the Indian Navy.
He further highlighted that “The Company has established itself as the only alternative to import of chaff payload. Today, the nation can decide on customising its payload depending upon the threat that its armed forces anticipate, a capability hitherto not available. We have also innovated solutions to develop bombs (MK-80 series bombs) that can be used both on the Eastern and Western Origin aircraft. This is one of a kind achievement that has no parallels.”
The company also claims that it has the world’s largest known state of the art production plant at Nagpur to manufacture HMX and HMX based compositions. “We are regularly exporting HMX and its compositions world over to countries like the USA, France, Ukraine, Israel,” said Dr Manjit Singh.
Indigenisation boosting services’ firepower
The three positive indigenisation lists issued by the Department of Military Affairs during the last two years are examples of the Armed Forces’ conviction in the capability of the domestic industrial ecosystem. These lists prescribe the 310 platforms and equipment services they have chosen to procure from the Indian industry as part of a roadmap that meets their requirements. Moreover, contracts worth Rs 2.2 lakh crores and projects worth Rs 5.07 lakh crores are in different stages of procurement by the three services.
There are several instances where the equipment manufactured by an Indian vendor has exceeded in quality compared to the global version of the same equipment. A case in point is K9 Vajra, which provides several value-added services like predictive maintenance using IoT, which provides higher availability of the platform, a feature which was not available in earlier versions of the same equipment.
All three services have led the effort to enhance the use of artificial intelligence in their weaponry. The developed solutions would not have been available from foreign vendors or would have resulted in the compromise of sensitive data. By developing those technologies in India, services have a large number of capabilities that would not have been possible otherwise.
Future-Ready through self-reliance
The focus is not on weapons and defence hardware alone. The Atma Nirbhar Bharat and Make in India initiatives are also covering niche, upcoming fields. The achievements of QNu labs are a prime example. The CEO of QNu Labs, Sunil Gupta says that his company is “working to solve the challenges of protecting the integrity and confidentiality of data and information by offering quantum-safe cybersecurity. The product and solutions from QNu Labs can help mitigate data security risks across verticals such as defence, government, healthcare, financial institutions, and telecommunications to name a few.”
The company, incubated at IIT-Madras Research Park in 2016, is a testament to swift indigenous innovation that is presently burgeoning in the Indian military-industrial complex.
The government and services have provided extensive impetus for such solutions, and to such firms. Defence minister Rajnath Singh recently launched 75 artificial intelligence applications. The Indian Navy has recently decided to launch 75 challenges under iDEX for developing new and emerging capabilities- some of which are not offered by any country to India.
This programme has changed the landscape of innovation in the country. The confidence shown by the services in the domestic defence ecosystem is a result of the fast pace at which innovations are happening in the country. This is undoubtedly a result of policy initiatives taken by the government. Recently, the services decided to acquire 14 sets of new innovative technologies which Indian start-ups have developed in a very short period.
HAL breaking the vertical limit
State owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) can now manufacture 16 fighter aircraft a year. And it is in a position to further enhance the rate of production up to 30 aircraft per annum for any additional operational requirements. It is also gearing up to manufacture for the international market as there is demand from many countries. The current pace of LCA production is as per the IAF’s roadmap for the aircraft. As and when required, the capacity could be enhanced further.
The company has designed and developed the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) as a replacement helicopter for Cheetah/Chetak helicopters. The Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) was issued in February 2021 by the IAF and Army. Production of LUH has commenced, and the first of these was already produced in August 2022. The strength of HAL in helicopters is reflected by more than 200 IPs (patents, designs, etc.), which HAL has filed in the process of designing and developing these helicopters. The flexibility available with design means that HAL can meet users’ customised needs.
Noted Indian aerospace and defence analyst Girish Linganna highlighted that “yet another one of HAL’s famous fighters- the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas- has also been showing a stellar performance. Fitted with the indigenous Uttam AESA radar, it is giving strong competition to South Korea’s FA-50 fighter jet in the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s tender for acquiring LCA.
The superiority of Tejas is visible not just in its sophisticated radar (compared to FA-50’s mechanical radar) and ability to integrate the lethal BrahMos Air-to-Air missiles which its competitor cannot, but also in the strong backing provided by the Indian industry and government.” He opined that this is a critical example of the strides Make in India initiative has made in the defence sector.
The new Make in India initiative in defence as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign is particularly strong in design. In fact, because of the indigenous technology development efforts, more than 2500 patent applications have been in the last few years, compared to previous years. In continuation of these efforts, it has now been decided to enhance industry-led design and development with 25 percent of the Defence R&D budget allocated to them.
While the Indian armed forces are now sourcing their requirements heavily from domestic sources, wherever the domestic capability does not exist, an effort is made to get the global OEM to manufacture the platform/equipment in India. An example is a recent decision to manufacture C-295 planes in India, collaborating with Airbus and Tata. Moreover, if economic viability for such production does not exist, the government also considers importing essential equipment from foreign OEMs. However, due to the growing defence industry ecosystem, such a situation has shown a progressively downward trend.