By Anupama Airy
India’s defence industry is witnessing an important chapter in its history. For the first time, the industry (including big corporates, SMEs and MSMEs) has got an opportunity to have wide ranging interactions with a senior team of officials from Indian Army led by the Deputy Chief of Army Staff himself—Lt Gen Subrata Saha, UYSM, YSM, VSM**.
A host of such interactions have taken place at Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad while the next is scheduled in the last week of April at Coimbatore and Chennai. These 22 odd regional meets are being spearheaded byLt Gen Saha and his team across various locations in the country.
Industry Participation at these “User-Industry Meets” are organised by industry associations like FICCI, CII and PHDCCI .
All these meets are drawing large crowds from the industry, a clear indication of the interest by the industry to be part of the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and the larger vision of `Modernization of the Army through Indigenisation’.
DefenceAviationPost.com had the chance to visit some of these Meets and spoke to Lt Gen Subrata Saha on the role of these Regional Army-Industry Interactions in the larger scheme of things.
Q: What is the aim of such regional interactions?
A: The aim of this interaction is to promote understanding of the modernisation requirements of the Indian Army, while at the same time discover capabilities available in the Indian industry and carry forward the Make in India program of the government. During these meets my team is presenting before the Indian industry the essential facets of our ‘Technological Perspective and Capability Road Map’.
Having said that, the larger purpose of this interaction is the need to grow beyond the relationship of a buyer-seller of a product to a relationship that is driven by mutual understanding of requirements, exchange of ideas and total synergy towards determining game changing solutions.
Q: Would you elaborate a bit on the requirements of the Indian Army?
A: Our requirements can be broadly categorised into three. First the next generation of ‘big ticket’ systems like combat vehicles, artillery guns, air defence, helicopters and so on. These are the classical conventional warfare capability development and modernisation schemes. Second category are smaller systems essentially those that support the first category. The third category would include requirements for the current and ongoing operations.
Q: From a largely import dependent set up, how do you see the Indian industry meeting the requirements of the Army?
A: Indian Army’s requirements are most suited for ‘Make in India’ for three reasons. First, the range of requirements is very wide, as for instance, currently there are approximately 150 schemes (procurements) in progress. Secondly, about 40 percent of the schemes are priced below Rs 150 crores, thus making it suitable for wider participation, particularly the MSME. Third the technological requirements in most cases are relatively easier to achieve.
For the first category that I earliar mentioned, currently our reliance on import is high, either the equipment is imported or the technology is imported. In some cases ideas are imported and adapted to suit the terrain, weather and war fighting conditions of India. Gestation period for development is long and so is the in service life. Even though the requirements in the first category are relatively high cost and technology intensive, most of them are an aggregate of systems.
Q: How upbeat are you on the participation by the small and MSME sector. Will they be able to contribute in this program that is largely very capital intensive?
A: Given the fact that over the years number of our smaller industries have also developed capability to manufacture precision and high technology components and sub systems they should be in a position to participate and of course progressively achieve much higher indigenous content. Some of our requirements are high cost and technology intensive but am quiet sure of the ability of MSMe and their enthusiasm to contribute is evident through their participation in huge numbers in these regional industry meets that we are holding. Small industry can come up with smaller systems and sub-systems, there are lot of opportunities. MSMEs are already tying up with larger players in the industry under indigenisation of items for big ticket investments.
Q: You spoke about the requirements for the current and ongoing operations. Could you elaborate a bit here?
A: While we intensify impetus for indigenisation in the first and second category, it is equally important to also focus on the third category i.e. the requirements for ongoing operations. In the current and ongoing operations, if we take the example of the ‘Line of Control’ in J&K, we are constantly in a state of `No war no peace’.
Troops are deployed 24x7x365 in an eyeball to eyeball contact configuration. Multiplying the challenge manifold for us is the constant and desperate attempts to infiltrate terrorists from launch pads in ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir’.
The terrorists supported by their handlers are constantly innovating to overcome the effectiveness of the counter infiltration grid that is deployed.
In the hinterland where our endeavour is to be precise in locating, localising and eliminating the terrorist, without causing any collateral damage or harm to civilians, there is a constant effort by vested interests to mobilise elements of the population to interrupt operations and provoke reaction by security forces.
Likewise there are unique requirements in the Siachen Glacier as indeed along the Line of Actual Control with China. These are typically Indian battlefield requirements, which require Indian solutions.
Given the high levels of ingenuity of our people and the industry, we firmly believe we can harness ideas and technology to find winning solutions. These requirements are more immediate, the gestation period for development is short and they also tend to enter the constant ‘tug of war of technology and innovation’, between us and the adversary.