It was not about numbers. With an extended suspense lasting till the eleventh hour over the venue and dates of DEFEXPO 2018, it was not expected to set new standards for number of participants and size of stalls. Instead there were numerous misgivings and doubts about its conduct altogether. Even till a couple of days prior to the event, news about dusty approaches and unprepared stands was enough to give people second thoughts about attending the Expo. As the D day arrived, lo and behold! The organisers had gotten their act together and despite the scorching Chennai heat and umpteen rumours, DEFEXPO 2018 was up and about and ready to welcome delegates comprising Ministers, Government officials, Industry leaders, Media and simply inquisitive visitors. DEFEXPO 2018 had indeed arrived. So much so that Day 4 saw entry and exit roads choking with vehicles and visitors, the naysayers notwithstanding.
The expo saw a total of 702 exhibitors including 160 from foreign countries. As many as 160 Indian MSMEs, including those in Tamil Nadu, took part and exhibited their wares at the expo. DRDO and Indian DPSUs led the charge as there were several big Indian industrial houses present at the show, seeking a niche for themselves under the slogan – Make in India/ Made in India.
Almost 45 MoUs were signed during the proceedings including 27 agreements sealed with foreign countries. The four-day expo saw Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO, transferring a number of critical technologies including heavy weight torpedo Varunastra and Astra Air-to-Air Missiles to Private and Public Sector undertakings for manufacturing military hardware. In its outcome report, the Ministry of Defence has claimed that Defence PSUs like Bharat Electronics, Mazagaon Docks and Goa Shipyard alone have signed 16 MoUs including 11 with foreign countries like Ukraine, Israel, the US, Bhutan, Germany and France.
Seven deals were sealed by Indian private companies with foreign manufacturers for jointly developing platforms and services for the Indian military. It included development of a UAV system that can be launched and recovered from Indian warships. Other deals with foreign countries are primarily aimed at designing new Armoured Fighting Vehicles for, exploring warship export opportunities, design and indigenously build submarines and for manufacturing multi-role fighter aircraft among others. India not only needs the high-end technologies, but industrial set-up, manufacturing processes, and good practices as well and we need friendly countries to help out holistically.
A relatively new trend in India is to involve the academia in the process of design and development more seriously. With strong support from certain serving officials and visionary veterans this initiative could pay off in the long run. Among MoUs signed with Indian companies and institutions therefore, one included a deal with IIT-Madras by Mazagaon Docks to indigenously develop advanced unmanned vehicles.
Inaugurated by the Prime Minister on Day 2, the occasion was used to put across an exciting demonstration of operational maneuvers using platforms made in India. It included ships, aircraft, tanks, guns and communication systems – all Made in India. Significant statements by the Defence Minister and the Defence Secretary set the contours of the policy framework that underlay the Expo.
There were few new cutting-edge technologies or products on display. Some of the ones that caught visitors’ fancy are discussed briefly.
ACTS by ZEN Technologies was demonstrated and was a big draw amongst other simulators on display. Armour Combat Training System is special as it is completely indigenous and is an effective training aid, given the high cost of training particularly when it involves the mechanized forces. In the current scenario of financial constraints and budget reviews, an aid like ACTS can prove to be a game changer as it provides added realism to training and has the capability to train combined arms teams, the way forward in future warfare. Synthetic training seems set to unleash its potential in India to provide realistic and cost-effective training.
In an otherwise usual display, ATGM 5 presented one state of the art product. This fifth-generation anti-tank missile has unmatched features like networked operation, multiple targets and hunter-killer concept capability. This is in addition to the missile’s long range, tandem warhead capability which makes it lethal and accurate against a number of targets like tanks, helicopters and field fortifications. Another distinguishing feature of ATGM 5 is the option of choosing between ‘man in the loop’ or ‘fire and forget’ facility. The first option enables the missile pilot to acquire, engage or change the target while the missile is in flight. At the same time if the crew is sure of its target, ‘fire and forget’ mode will track the target and destroy it – the hit probability being extremely high. To be made in India by MBDA – L&T combine, ATGM 5 can be a game changer in the region, given its operational characteristics.
The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) and the Dhanush were show stealers. Indigenous artillery guns inspire as much awe as their firepower would. ATAGS is a DRDO driven project in partnership with Bharat Forge and Tata A&D. Still under development as the field trials continue, ATAGS has many a characteristic that outmatch its global contemporaries. Dhanush, the Indian version of its erstwhile predecessor BOFORS, is at an advanced stage of induction and is proving to be success story in its class of artillery guns. OFB has gone another step ahead and has mounted the gun to provide a solution to MGS (Mobile Gun System). Both the towed and MGS versions were on display at the Expo.
Bharat Electronics Limited had a number of initiatives on display including radars and communication equipment. Of particular interest was 3D C/D Band Air Surveillance Radar, a Multi-Function Active Phased Array Radar with Solid State Transceiver for Land and Naval applications. The Radar provides 3-dimensional target data along with Doppler data employing multi-beam in elevation, mono pulse in azimuth and many advanced and contemporary technologies with very elegant and modular architecture. In all 08 new technologies were unveiled by BEL at the Expo.
Well known for its protective gear, Indian major MKU treated the visitors with a different flavour. Its recent decision to enter the firearms domain was in full view as it announced stitching partnerships with Thales and Caracal. With the Indian Army deciding to induct new range of small arms in its armoury, MKU’s entry into this domain adds to the excitement. Several night vision devices were on display at the MKU stand.
Our write-up will not be complete without a mention of Alpha Design Technologies Limited (ADTL). Known for its penchant for huge stalls, ADTL did not disappoint this time round too and contributed towards enhancing night fighting capability in a major way, which was evident from the display at its stands. Several electro-optical devices that ADTL pioneers in were on display. A smart glass cockpit for helicopters was an added attraction.
Several symposiums were conducted by trade organisations and think tanks during the event. Well attended as they were, most of the topics were centred around capability and capacity development in India.
India’s aspirations to become self-reliant, both in the Public and Private Sectors, were obvious and DEFEXPO 2018 has been a big step forward towards achieving them.