Military & Aerospace

Private Industry can give quantum jump to military – but for entrenched barriers
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 May , 2018

In August 2016, the Indian Army set up its own Army Design Bureau (ADB) whose charter included:

•  act as central repository of technical know-how for the Indian Army;

ADB was a unique initiative by the Army intended to act as a bridge between the Army and the private sector to meet the Army’s requirements; shift from total dependence on the DRDO alone.

•  collate operational requirements from field formations and bring them forward for deliberations with DRDO, OFB, DPSUs, defence industry and academia;

•  assist formulation of GSQRs and Statement of cases in respect of Indian Army;

•  collate and bring to fruitation innovations undertaken by field formations;

•  subsume Army Technical Board (ATB) and Simulator Development Division in its organization and adopt their character;

•  act as nodal point to integrate and synergize efforts of various Category ‘A’ establishments having domain specific centres of technological excellence;

•  generate long-term research requirements for the Indian Army and share the same with the DRDO and academia, and;

•  assist in identifying various projects for the DRDO and be the single point contact with it.

ADB was a unique initiative by the Army intended to act as a bridge between the Army and the private sector to meet the Army’s requirements; shift from total dependence on the DRDO alone. The venture has paid off. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has responded with a report titled ‘1st Compendium on Solutions to Problem Statements’, which addresses solutions to 27 of the 130 problems enumerated by the Army Design Bureau (ADB) in three separate reports.

…DC Enterprises has claimed it can develop palm-sized drones, weighing 300-600gm, for reconnaissance, surveillance and detection of intruders…

Through these reports, the private sector has come up with solutions to increase awareness about troop location during operations, make fuel storage safer at forward bases, and provide high-calorie food to improve the efficiency of soldiers at high altitudes; suggesting solutions to problems identified by the Army.

The Compendium lists out a host of solutions from palm-sized UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for surveillance, drones capable of ferrying stores to high altitudes, identification friend or foe (IFF) systems, scaling up performance of Russian-origin tanks to puncture proof tyres and the like.

Significantly, Bengaluru-based DC Enterprises has claimed it can develop palm-sized drones, weighing 300-600gm, for reconnaissance, surveillance and detection of intruders in 12-18 months; this nano-drone will have a range of 2 km, endurance of 30 minutes and can be deployed in under three minutes.

DC Enterprises has also offered drones that can carry 50kg loads to support troops in remote high-altitude areas, replacing mules and porters. New Delhi-based Tata Power SED has offered light-weight night vision devices, surveillance cameras than can detect humans from a distance of 20km at night, and sniper scopes to engage targets with greater precision. Alpha Design Technologies (ADT) Private Limited, another Bengaluru-based company has sought Rs 3 cr from Army to develop IFF systems that will help identify friendly forces among hostile targets.

The problem in adopting the “through DRDO” approach is not only time delays but the military ends up paying up double or triple the cost from dealing directly with private industry.

ADT claims it can produce six to eight IFF systems for trials within a year. These are excellent developments, clearly indicating the potential that lies in the private sector, one example being the mini drones for reconnaissance, surveillance and detection, as well as load delivering loads that the Army has been waiting for years – solely depending on the DRDO.

The Army is reportedly studying the FICCI Compendium to “figure out” how the solutions can be best used to increase the Army’s efficiency. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has reportedly told the private sector that Army is ready to accept the solutions even if the companies met 60-70% of the Army’s requirements, provided firms kept working on improving the quality of their solutions. But this is where the barriers embedded in the system would likely take over: DRDO, that will like to grab every project; private industry projects can keep lying in MoD for months unless the ‘through DRDO’ route is taken, and; red-tape within MoD that keeps projects in limbo unless issue comes in media limelight or requisite ‘grease’ is applied to facilitate movement of files. These are age old barriers in backdrop of file shuffling that are known to all.

Take for example the ‘Bullet Resistant Vests’ developed by Dr Shantanu Bhowmik, Head Research & Projects, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Amrita University, Coimbatore; the proposal titled “Development of Hyper Velocity Impact Resistant Ultra Light Weight High Temperature Resistant Thermoplastic Polymer-Carbon Fiber Composite” was lying with MoD for months despite Dr Bhowmik writing to then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the proposal needs to be progressed expeditiously since similar research is ongoing by foreign companies like Boeing, EADS, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Bombardier etc for developing high performance thermoplastic-carbon fibre composite for various applications in aviation and defence, and that Amrita University was in the forefront of this technology globally.

Knowing the proposal had little chance if progressed directly with MoD, Amrita University had sent the proposal to DRDO and the joint propel TDF-DRDO was then sent to MoD. It is only after the media noise on delay of the project that it was approved by the government – to be included in the ‘Make in India’ project. That, established in 1958 and having massive setups, DRDO could not produce requisite bullet proof jackets over six decades is another story.

Development of Army’s information systems too are lagging behind drastically and its battlefield management system stands temporarily foreclosed for lack of funds. Perhaps, the private industry can provide better solutions and at cheaper rates.

The problem in adopting the “through DRDO” approach is not only time delays but the military ends up paying up double or triple the cost from dealing directly with private industry.

Just imagine the offer by the Bengaluru-based DC Enterprises of developing drones in 12-18 months, which unlike DRDO they can be counted upon to deliver in the stated time-frame. These types of products DRDO has been endevouring to develop for years. Unfortunately, it is only the big-ticket projects that are largely being talked about under Make-in-India. It should not be difficult to imagine that private industry that has capability to produce drones in short time-frame can also provide anti-drone technology to the military and the security sector expeditiously.

Development of Army’s information systems too are lagging behind drastically and its battlefield management system stands temporarily foreclosed for lack of funds. Perhaps, the private industry can provide better solutions and at cheaper rates. Same goes for quantum communications and new technologies.

The MoD needs drastic overhaul not in terms of injecting military professionals alone but also banishing unaccountability, latter has been brought to the notice of the Prime Minister recently by Dr Subhash Bhamre, MoS (Defence). Besides, while there is talk in the media about government going after ISI-backed hackers, and action against ISI-backed journos is yet to commence, there is need to focus also on those bureaucrats who by design or default revel in keeping the military under-equipped.

Significantly, a bureaucrat of MoD who leaked sensitive military information to media during UPA II and acted as the pivot to shut down Army’s Technical Support Division (TSD) on behest his political masters, is back in MoD in elevated rank. This doesn’t bode well for the defence of the country.  As to the solutions offered by the private industry through FICCI, how soon the Army can get over the above mentioned barriers, only time will tell.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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