india

Private defence firms make sales pitch to generals

The presence of the private sector at a prestigious military training institution is an important acknowledgement of its growing capabilities in designing and manufacturing cutting edge aerospace and defence equipment, reports Ajai Shukla.

Underscoring the government’s focus on indigenisation, two private sector aerospace and defence manufacturers were invited to a prestigious military training institution in New Delhi to address senior student officers on the role the private sector could play in making India self-sufficient in designing and manufacturing its own weaponry.

Two private firms — Larsen & Toubro and Dynamatic Technologies Ltd — explained to the student officers, all of them of general rank, about how, and how much, their companies were capable of contributing to self-reliance in the linked fields of aerospace and defence.

The military institution cannot be identified for reasons of confidentiality.

Also addressing that audience was India’s largest defence public sector undertaking, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd — the aerospace behemoth that produces Rs 21,000 crore (Rs 210 billion) worth of aviation products each year, from entire fighter aircraft such as the Sukhoi-30MKI and Tejas fighters, to the sophisticated on-board avionics that give these aircraft their cutting edge.

The presence of the private sector, especially that of micro, small and medium enterprises, is an important acknowledgement of its growing capabilities in designing and manufacturing cutting edge aerospace and defence equipment.

For decades, the ministry of defence’s public sector focus ensured that companies such as HAL enjoyed a fully loaded order book, while private sector firms dined off the scraps.

But that is changing as the private sector is developing its capabilities and skills. The capabilities of heavy engineering giant Larsen & Toubro are well known, especially after its contribution in designing and building the hull and entire sections of India’s indigenous nuclear submarines and tactical missile and rocket systems.

Less well known are the growth stories of the emergence of MSMEs such as DTL, which has gone from building agricultural tractor hydraulic pumps, to hydraulic components for T-72 tanks. That components pipeline from the erstwhile Soviet Union collapsed, when India’s biggest defence partner imploded, along with much of its defence industry.

As Udayant Malhoutra, the youthful DTL chief, told the military audience, his company today manufactures not just an entire fuselage section of the Tejas fighter and a significant portion of the Su-30MKI, it is also the global sole supplier of flap track beams for Airbus A-318, A-319, A-320, A-321 and A-330 airliners – adding up to 900 aircraft per year.

DTL made it clear that it thinks much bigger than an MSME; along the way, it has acquired a robotic manufacturing plant at Swindon, UK, and world-class metallurgy facilities in Germany.

Whenever India buys an overseas aviation platform, such as the P-8I Poseidon, companies such as DTL snap up a good share of the manufacture, which the foreign original equipment manufacturers are required to outsource to India.

‘The CH-47 Chinook presents an example of how Indian private firms are taking up the business,’ said Malhoutra. ‘Today, 25 per cent of the pylon and ramp of that US helicopter is manufactured by DTL in Bangalore.’

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