India’s security threats range from ‘two-and-a-half’ front war comprising of coordinated aggression by Pakistan in the West, China in the North and internal insurgencies in J&K, North East and Maoist/Naxalite violence, growing Chinese Navy activities in the Indian Ocean and COVID-19 pandemic. India shares a 3,323km land border with Pakistan, and an even longer 3,488km border with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and has territorial disputes with both countries over the ownership of the Northern State of Kashmir and the North Eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh, respectively.
These factors have played a crucial role in spurring growth in Indian base defense expenditure (excluding pensions) over the historic period, which increased from US$39.3 billion in 2016 to US$47.3 billion in 2020, reflecting a CAGR of 4.80% over the historic period. The need to secure strategic interests, against the backdrop of ever increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region, continues to fuel the growth of India’s defense expenditure and the Indian defense market.
Stating national security as a priority and focus on indigenization of defence, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated Rs 4.78 lakh crore to defence budget for 2021-22. The total amount includes capital expenditure worth Rs 1.35 lakh crore. Defence Minsiter Rajnath Singh thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sitharaman for increasing the defence budget. “I specially thank PM& FM for increasing the defence budget to 4.78 lakh cr for FY21-22 which includes capital expenditure worth Rs 1.35 lakh crore. It is nearly 19 percent increase in Defence capital expenditure. This is highest ever increase in capital outlay for defence in 15yrs,” Singh tweeted.
The growth in defense capital expenditure is expected to be fueled by the need to stem the erosion in the country’s capabilities to counter Pakistan and China. Over the last few years, India has consistently ranked among the leading defense importers worldwide. Between 2014-2018, India was ranked as the second largest importer of defense equipment, behind only Saudi Arabia. The acquisition of defense equipment is mainly driven by the need to gain a significant technological advantage over Pakistan, while retaining a level of strategic parity with respect to China. India needs to ramp up indigenous defence production for self-reliance in the face of a formidable adversary and also to drive defense exports.
Government of India launched Make in India initiative to encourage multi-national, as well as national companies to manufacture their products in India. It was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 25 September 2014, aimed at increasing the share of manufacturing sector from little over 16% in 2014-2015 to 25% of the GDP by 2022. This is expected to create an additional 100 million jobs and skill enhancement in 25 sectors of the economy. The initiative also aims at high quality standards and minimising the impact on the environment. The initiative hopes to attract capital and technological investment in India.
In February 2021, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said attaining self-reliance in the manufacturing of defence equipment was important to maintain India’s strategic autonomy. While addressing the audience at an industry event, he revealed that the government aimed to bring down defence imports by at least $2 billion by 2022. “Our commitment is to ensure that technologies developed by the startup ecosystem act as force multipliers to the Indian military’s operational and combat capabilities,” he added.
In August 2020, Defence Minister Singh had announced that India will stop the import of 101 weapons and military platforms like transport aircraft, light combat helicopters, conventional submarines, cruise missiles and sonar systems by 2024. A second negative list, putting import restrictions on 108 military weapons and systems such as next-generation corvettes, airborne early warning systems, tank engines and radars, was issued in June 2021.
At present, India is importing nearly 60 per cent of its defence manufacturing components. The Government of India is committed to working with MSMEs focusing on import substitution. The ‘Make in India’ programme puts great thrust on sustainability, Lt Gen Thodge said, adding that the Government is reaching out to MSMEs across India to encourage them to participate in this programme.
After border clashes with China in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley in June 2020, the government’s vision of an ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ was also echoed in the Draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP), 2020, released earlier this month. “Propelled by the recent successes in exports, India is set to realise its potential as an emerging defence manufacturing hub,” reads the draft policy, meant to serve as an “overarching guiding document to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports.”
While India is effectively dealing with challenges of Internal Security, Pakistan and COVID-19, it requires effective strategy to counter China which has large economic, military, technological and manufacturing lead over India, and emerging as Global leader in many military and commercial technologies. Meeting our National security objectives require Quantum jump in innovation and speed of innovation to develop cost effective, offensive and defensive multifunctional platforms, weapons and systems, adaptive against counterstrategies.
The defence ministry has specified new rules for homegrown startups to take part in military projects in an attempt to focus their attention on cutting edge research and development. Under the new rules, startups recognised by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) under certain categories will automatically qualify to take part in specified defence projects. These categories range from aeronautics, nanotechnology and Virtual Reality to renewable technology, robotics, green technology and internet of things. For relatively smaller research and development projects, the government has simplified rules by keeping the race open to all Indian companies, doing away with any regulations for participation. “For projects with estimated cost of prototype development phase not exceeding Rs 3 crore, no separate technical or financial criteria (will) be defined for both ‘start-ups’ and ‘other than startups’, to encourage their participation,” the new rules specify.
Ministry of Defence aims to create an ecosystem which fosters innovation and encourages technology development in Defence by engaging R&D institutes, academia, industries, startups and even individual innovators. For bolstering this aim, industry funded Make II, iDEX, Dare to Dream, and Technology Development Fund have been launched, a Defence Investor Cell has been opened, TReDs has been implemented, apart from several other initiatives, which are embraced by young talents all over India. There has also been substantial rise in number of accelerators and incubators to provide strategic mentorships and other such support that they require
SMEs Startups in Defence: SWOT Analysis
India has around 194 defence tech startups building innovative tech solutions to empower and support the country’s defence efforts. ideaForge, Tonbo Imaging, CM Environsystems, and VizExperts are among those building innovative solutions to strengthen India’s defence efforts
Indian Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector has emerged as a highly vibrant and dynamic sector of the Indian economy over the last five decades. SMEs not only play crucial role in providing large employment opportunities at comparatively lower capital cost than large industries but also help in industrialization of rural areas. SMEs are complementary to large industries as ancillary units and this sector contributes enormously to the socio-economic development of the country.
The Sector consisting of 36 million units, as of today, provides employment to over 80 million persons. The Sector through more than 6,000 products contributes about 8% to GDP besides 45% to the total manufacturing output and 40% to the exports from the country, according to SME chamber of India. The SME sector has the potential to spread industrial growth across the country and can be a major partner in the process of inclusive growth. Experts say the SME sector is an attractive option because of their innovative capabilities in niche manufacturing, higher flexibility, lower costs and the ability to learn and utilize new technologies.
However the contribution of MSME sector in defence sector is small. The India Defense Industry has grown from USD 21.9 billion in 2010-11 to USD 37.3 billion in 2016-17, at a CAGR of 9.25%. The Centre is attempting to boost MSME sector’s contribution towards indigenous manufacturing in defence from the present 20-30 to 70 per cent in the next five years under its ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme, Lt General Ravi Thodge (Retd) said.
• Strengths: Young talent with modern technology, innovative, Rapid decision making, Delivering Quickly,
• Weakness: Capital intensive Defence projects with high gestation period, lack of access to facilities, subsidised land for manufacturing facilities. marketing support
• Opportunities: Government thrust, Favourable policies, allocation of Budget, incentives such as tax exemptions
• Threats: Challenge of Scaling up, Government procedures, secrecy and , and simplified procurement processes.
Despite their high enthusiasm and inherent capabilities to grow, SMEs in India are also facing many challenges like sub-optimal scale of operation, technological obsolescence, supply chain inefficiencies, increasing domestic & global competition, working capital shortages, not getting trade receivables from large and multinational companies on time, insufficient skilled manpower, change in manufacturing strategies and turbulent and uncertain market scenario.
Majority of the MSMEs, especially the Tier-II and Tier-III companies in India have limited themselves to component manufacturing and using outdated processes. This needs to change and they need to focus on improve skill sets and efficiencies in order to be able for foreign collaboration, which can help in technology transfer.
SMEs do not have exposure to national and international markets, secondary market instruments, technology and product innovations and best global practices. This impacts the profitability and growth of SMEs. SMEs are inward looking and do not have access to beneficial information and business management tools to enhance their businesses. Lack of adequate and timely finance has been a perennial cause of sickness in the SME sector.
The MSMEs and SMEs are also expected to be the hardest hit in the current situation. Secy Dr. Ajay Kumar said, ” We have advised OFB and Defence PSUs to clear all eligible payments to MSMEs on priority. Most PSUs and OFB have assured that this will be done. Wherever there is a pending payment which is linked to payment to be released from Government to the Defence PSUs, efforts are being made to ensure that those payments are released at the earliest now that the budget for 2020-21 has also become available. I would like to say that the Department of Defence Production is continuously working in this regard.Similarly, on the revenue side, payments to MSMEs are being prioritized. Department of Military Affairs is monitoring these and making sure that these are done as soon as possible.”
Thrust on innovation by MSME
In 2018, the government launched ‘Innovations For Defence Excellence’ (iDEX), an initiative to foster the entrepreneurial zeal among MSMEs, startups, individuals, research and development institutes and academia. Through the initiative, those demonstrating capabilities of developing innovative technologies in defence are provided with both funding and incubation support. The government’s Defence India Startup Challenges (DISC), which come with problem statements, focus on leveraging startups’ capabilities to fulfil the needs of armed forces. iDEX is funded and managed by the Defence Innovation Organisation, a not-for-profit company.
Startup Innovation requires collaboration among many stakeholders. Startups need technology which require support from academia and R&D Researchers can help startups access the most cutting-edge science. Commercial innovators, along with the Government accelerators like DIU and iDEX designed to make it easier for startups to sell to the government, can expedite the transition of early-stage research into products. They can also provide governemtn funding and atrrat venture capitalists. The result should be a rapid acceleration in developing relevant military capabilities, putting science to use for the good of the warfighter and consumer alike.
Indian government has been supporting these entrepreneurs and startups under Make in India with initiatives like Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), Start-up India, Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) etc. Defence and aerospace are strategic sectors under ‘Make in India’ and provide a big opportunity for startups and entrepreneurs to venture in this sector.
The MoD, under the guidance of the Niti Aayog, set up the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) to manage a Defence Innovation Fund (DIF). It also created an operational arm to manage a roadmap for creating an ecosystem, called the Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX). This two-tier system is structured in such a way that the DIO gives overall guidance to the iDEX.
Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) has been launched as a non-profit company to foster technology development and innovative products with commercial potential for the defence sector, informed sources said. The company is being formed by defence electronics major Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and defence aviation major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL).
The initiative Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) had been launched by the central government in April 2018 to create an ecosystem that will foster innovation and technology development in Defence and Aerospace by engaging MSMEs, start-ups, individual innovators, R&D institutes & academia. Under the initiative, the government is also committed to provide grants, funding and other support to carry out research and development that has the potential to cater to the needs of the Indian defence sector. As part of this framework, iDEX envisages working with India’s innovation entities such as incubators that can help in the discovery and exploration of defence startups and MSMEs, thereby helping in the co-creation of innovative defence technologies.
In June 2021, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved budgetary support of nearly Rs 499 crore for research and innovation in the defence sector for the next five years. The Defence Ministry said the funds will be used to provide financial support to nearly 300 start-ups, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and individual innovators with a larger goal of ensuring self-reliance in the defence sector. The scheme is in sync with the government’s push to cut imports of military hardware and weapons and make India a hub for defence manufacturing.
“Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has approved the budgetary support of Rs 498.8 crore to Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX)-Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) for the next five years,” the ministry said in a statement. It said the iDEXDIO has the primary objective of self-reliance and indigenisation in the defence and aerospace sector. It said the DIO will enable the creation of channels for innovators to engage and interact with the Indian defence production industry. “The scheme aims to facilitate rapid development of new, indigenised and innovative technologies for the Indian defence and aerospace sector to meet their needs in shorter timelines,” it said.
The Defence Innovation Organisation—a not-for-profit company formed by public sector undertakings—got the army, navy and air force to come up with 11 requirements to kick off iDEX. These included unmanned underwater and airborne vehicles, see-through armour, body protection systems and new materials. It threw the challenge open to innovators.
The draft policy adds that iDEX would be scaled up to engage with 300 more startups and develop 60 new technologies/ products during the next five years. To enhance collaboration with these companies, the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a new industry-friendly patent policy for transfer of DRDO developed technologies to industries. The policy would help Indian startups get free access for using DRDO patents and working on innovative solutions aimed at improving India’s defence capabilities.
The Indian government earlier approved a Defence Innovation Fund (DIF), which aims to create, “an ecosystem to foster innovation and technology development in Defence,” according to a statement by Minister of State for Defence Dr. Subhash Bhamre. The idea is to engage R&D organisations, academia and industry – including startups and “individual innovators,” providing them with funding to develop ideas, products and services that have the potential for future commercialisation. Initial funding for the scheme will be provided by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), with grants from government agencies and other not-for-profit organisations – both public and private – in prospect as the scheme matures.
The DIF was begun with a corpus of Rs 100 crores, contributed equally by two the public sector units, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), respectively. The corpus is to be expanded, as required, through the utilisation of a portion of the CSR funds of the PSUs, as well as a percentage of their profits. At the launch of the 3rd DISC, RM Rajnath Singh announced that the Ministry is seeking approval for Rs.500 crores to fund more than 250 start-ups over the next five years to achieve approximately 50 ‘tangible innovations’ for the Indian defence sector.
In a parallel move the government has also launched a Technology Development Fund (TDF) which aims to support the development of defence and dual-use technologies not currently in use or development in India, thereby creating a culture of innovative development for defence applications. Providing grants for design and development of key defence technologies, TDF is administered by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).
The defence Minister stressed that Defence public sector units such as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Bharat Dynamics Ltd., which manufacture critical products for the Forces, should be lead integrators and make way for industry as supplier of components and systems. The contribution of small and medium industries to Defence PSUs increased four per cent last year and stood at nine per cent of the total procurement. The target is 15 per cent, he added.
SMEs and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have several opportunities in the defence sector in the form of offset programmes and direct supplies,” said Suvarna Raju, chairman and managing director, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), addressing the gathering at the CII Industry Next Summit, ‘The Emerging New Growth Paradigm’. “Besides the defence industry, public-sector undertakings have begun to offload parts of their manufacturing to tier suppliers. Due to this, the turnaround time of production is shortened and piloting or testing of products is also accurate,” he continued.
“The Government is also committed to introducing more clusters of defence manufacturing to help MSMEs reap the benefits of logistical efficiency, as well as to harness the benefits of innovation from all parts of the country,” he said. The Ministry of Defence is already working with the Government of Maharashtra to promote clusters in Nashik for aircraft components, forging and foundry in Kolhapur and for tank and combat vehicles in Pune,” he said.
Nashik in Maharashtra will be the site of the country’s second defence innovation hub after Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Union Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said. He informed the gathering the the Ministry of Defence had set a target of making the country among the top five arms exporters by 2025. By then, he added, the plan was to achieve annual arms exports of Rs 35,000 crore.
The ministry was developing a testing center for Defence Procurement Assistance Center in Belgaum, Karnataka. This will also help MSMEs with testing facilities. On the issue of procedural delays and transparency keeping MSMEs wary of participating in the ‘Make in India’ programme, Lt Gen Thodge said since 2014, the Ministry had done away with physical tendering and today it is done through etendering. “The Government is finalising RFPs for procuring ammunition of the value of Rs 2,500 crore per year under the ‘Make in India’ programme and that these would be uploaded soon. This would be a game changer,” he said
Defence India Startup Challenge
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has sought to bring in fresh innovations to power the country’s defence forces through the Defence India Start-up Challenge (DISC), an initiative of the newly set-up Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO). Now, with a view to leverage defence-related startups and strengthen their collaboration with the defence forces — the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force — minister of defence Nirmala Sitharaman launched the Defence India Startup Challenge on August 4, 2018. A joint initiative of the Atal Innovation Mission, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), and the Defence Innovation Organisation (a ministry of defence initiative), the Defence India Startup Challenge is looking for startups to innovate in 11 categories.
Researchers have long talked of the ‘Valleys of Death’ at the early stage and commercialization stage in taking innovations to market. The Defence India Startup Challenge aims to address both the Commercialization Valleys of Death, in which innovators are unable to access resources for prototyping, piloting, testing, and market creation.
The Defence India Startup Challenge is an initiative by Defence Innovation Organization (under the aegis of the Ministry of Defence, Government of India), in partnership with Atal Innovation Mission, aimed at supporting innovators to create prototypes and/or commercialize products/solutions based on advanced technologies in area of national security through an equity linked grant-based mechanism.
The vision of the Challenge is two-fold:
- Help create functional prototypes of products/technologies relevant for national security (prototyping), this will also help build an ecosystem of fast-moving innovation in the India Defence Sector;
- Help new deep-tech products find markets and early customers (commercialization) in the context of the Indian Defence Sector.
Start-up challenges have become popular around the world as a vehicle to harness the creativity of young techpreneurs to come up with solutions. They aim to match entrepreneurs with mentors, venture capital (VC) and other associated elements of the start-up ecosystem in the best way possible. Many start-ups are formed by first time entrepreneurs who would need handholding and capital, as well as access to markets to take their ideas from the conception to the product-output stage.
In 2018, the inaugural edition of the DISC set forth 11 problem challenges spanning various domains, from underwater remotely piloted vehicles to secure hardware encryption devices to see-through armour.1 The fourth iteration ended on December 15, 2020. Three iterations of the DISC saw 18 “problem statements” or challenges from the various arms of the armed forces that start-ups could work on. More than 700 start-ups participated in these challenges and 44 contracts for building prototypes have been signed, with a cumulative total of 58 winners who could get up to Rs 1.5 crores in project funding, to make up 50 percent of the project cost.
The latest iteration of the DISC has seen a qualitative and quantitative change in the “problem statements”, with more than half of the challenges based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and the remaining five focussed on hardware. An open challenge has also been issued where start-ups can apply to have their technologies and products assessed by the military.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh handed over Rs 3 crore to two start-ups in the defence sector, to help them build upon their innovative ideas, during the inaugural session of DefConnect 2019, an initiative to showcase innovations in defence excellence, in New Delhi in Nov 2019. The start-up firms, North Street Cooling Towers and Chipspirit Technologies were handed over cheques of around Rs 1.5 crore each by Singh.
There are a number of innovations within the framework that have been put in to sweeten the deal for start-ups; in the first instance, the intellectual property rests for perpetuity with the start-up though the government may restrict its transfer on considerations of national security. Secondly, those start-ups that are shortlisted for a challenge only compete amongst themselves to develop the product/service at the optimum cost within the shortest period of time, without then having to compete with other companies. A role for the start-ups has been incorporated into the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020, which allows “entities recognised as ‘Start-up’ by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) to participate in Make II cases and also reserves projects up to Rs.100 crores for the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)
As India, and indeed the world, battles the Chinese virus pandemic, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), like every other arm of the government is contributing its resources in combating the unprecedented situation. The MoD is trying to lessen the possible financial stresses that the Indian defence sector–especially SMEs and MSMEs–are likely to experience in the immediate aftermath of the current crisis. As far as Ministry of Defence is concerned, right from rescuing stranded Indians from COVID-19 affected areas, such as China, Iran, Italy, Malaysia etc., to providing relief materials all across the country, Armed Forces have put in place all its medical and manpower resources. Force’s Hospitals and Medical Facilities have been dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients and some of its bases have been turned into quarantine centres, says Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar.
SMEs and Startups success stories
The COVID-19 cloud has also had a silver lining for the industry. There have been new opportunities which several companies have come forward and taken advantage of. We are supporting the efforts of these companies. Several defence companies have come forward to produce COVID-19 related equipment and supplies. For example, BEL is making ventilators and OFB is making sanitizers, PPEs, coveralls and masks. OFB has also started making test equipment for PPEs. These are additions to their planned production plans and should help their bottom line.
Hundreds of defence tech startups are now innovating under the government’s ‘Startup India’ mission. Of these, more than 50 are developing new ‘fit-for-military-use’ technologies and products under the government’s initiative, ‘Innovations for Defence Excellence’ (iDEX). These startups are trying to find solutions to the various problem statements that iDEX puts forth in its Defence India Startup Challenges (DISC), ranging from individual splinter-proof protection suits to real-time positioning systems.
More than 350 start-ups selected by the iDEX, partner incubators, Defence Innovation Organization (DIO), nodal agencies including the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, apart from DRDO, Defence PSUs and Ordnance Factories were part of DefConnect 2019
Several new technologies have also been offered by companies and startups. For example, a startup in Kochi has come up with N95 masks which is totally new technology and was not there earlier in the country. A startup in Delhi in collaboration with IITK has come up with new ventilator system.
Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram has found a new testing kit which is much faster and more cheaper. If necessity is the mother of invention, we have seen this truly happen in this COVID-10 crisis. The innovation eco-system has grown over last few years has been very active especially in terms of medical devices and equipment. But this development of innovation ecosystem augurs well for defence and aerospace sectors as well.
Chennai-based Torus Robotics was launched in 2019 to help the Indian armed forces with modular Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) that could cater to diverse mission requirements. Founded by SRM University alumni M Vignesh, Vibhakar Senthil Kumar, and K Abbhi Vignesh, Torus Robotics is involved in designing, developing, and delivering fully electric unmanned ground vehicles for the Indian defence services. The UGVs are equipped with six degrees of freedom (6DOF), a robotic arm for detection, identification, and disposal of life-menacing unidentified objects.
Startup India recognised Torus Robotics also won the label of “Pioneer Defence Innovator” by IDEX-DIO. It also built Mobile Autonomous Robotic System (MARS) UGV for Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
Kochi-based EyeROV is working towards enabling efficient underwater inspection with its marine robotic solutions and solving problems for several industries, such as defence, ocean research organisations, shipping, oil and gas, infrastructure, and construction. Founded in 2016 by Johns T Mathai, and Kannappa Palaniappan P, EyeROV is developing India’s first commercial underwater drone for remote inspection of offshore assets.
In an earlier interaction with YourStory, Johns explained that underwater inspection was more challenging than land or air inspection because human divers have to deal with high water currents, poor visibility, and a hostile environment because of wild marine creatures. Apart from this, divers can only dive up to a certain depth. The founders felt that a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) could help solve these problems. “With human divers, there are either inspection delays or lack of expertise. They are able to dive only up to 30-40 metres, whereas an ROV drone can go up to 100 or 200 metres below sea level,” Johns explained.
The startup’s first industrial-grade underwater drone EyeROV Tuna was commercially launched in 2018. It claims the 50cm X 50cm X 50 cm cube-shaped ROV has completed more than 1,000 hours of underwater inspection of dams, bridges, ports, ship hulls, oil and gas assets, and other critical underwater structures across 25 projects in five states.
Other startups such as Sastra Robotics, which has developed scalable automated robotics solutions, and EyeROV, India’s first underwater drone, among others have also received validation from the DRDO. Most of the Indian startups with defence tech applications are based in Kerala, which has emerged as the hub of India’s hardware ecosystem.
Mumbai-based ideaForge is a popular name in the defence and surveillance sector. The drone startup, which claims to have over 90 percent of the market share in the security and surveillance segment, was founded in 2007 by IIT Mumbai alumni Ankit Mehta, Rahul Singh, Vipul Joshi, and Ashish Bhat. The company is involved in manufacturing drones for defence, homeland security, and industrial applications. ideaForge’s drone have been deployed by the Indian armed forces, central armed police forces, and state police forces. It also has industrial customers in geospatial surveying, oil and gas, mining sectors.
According to the company, Switch UAV is an indigenous system developed to cater to the most demanding surveillance operations of the Indian Armed Forces. The Fixed-Wing VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) UAV has been designed to be deployed at high altitude and harsh environments for day and night intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. In April 2020, it joined hands with police forces in Sangli (Maharashtra) and Guwahati (Assam) to deploy its drones for surveillance and monitoring COVID-19 social distancing norms during the lockdown.
Ahmedabad-based Optimized Electrotech is an electro-optic startup that provides security and surveillance solutions. It was founded in 2017 by Anil Yekkala, Dharin Shah, Kuldeep Saxena, Purvi Shah, and Sandeep Shah. The startup provides electro-optics systems, which can be used for the surveillance of smart cities, satellite-based imaging, border surveillance, medical imaging, access control, machine vision, automotive (advanced driver-assistance systems, i.e., ADAS) and consumer electronics.
Speaking to YourStory, Co-founder Sandeep said, “We work with Homeland Security (MHA) and Defence (MOD). Our products are useful to the CISF for guarding strategic assets; they help the BSF, ITBP, AR, and Coast Guard keep a watch on trespassing at borders. CRPF, all central and state police forces can use them for better law implementation within cities, and the army, IAF, and navy can use them for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR).” He added that the first line of products is deployed for border surveillance and defence purposes. The upcoming lineup of products will be used for smart city surveillance and in the automotive sector.
Sagar Defence Engineering: Naval swars of surface ships
Dimension NXG: AI Reality Glasses
Another Mumbai-based startup ‘Dimension NXG’, which operates under the brand name ‘AjnaLens’, has launched ‘AjnaBolt’- an AI-powered mixed reality glasses for defence. The designed and Made-in-India AjnaBolt provides advanced lethality to increase survivability, and thereby exponentially increasing a defence mission’s success capability. AjnaBolt can be used to upgrade fair-weather weapons to all-weather weapons, enhance navigation and sight, advance training and simulation, etc. Its modular design helps the user to mount it on headgear or use it as standalone glasses.
Astr Defence: One rifle can replace five
One product can replace five different small arm weapons currently in use by Indian military, claims Hubli-based Ankush Koravi, who runs a small arm startup ‘Astr Defence’. Talking about his modular flagship model, Koravi says, “Indian army presently uses five different types of weapons. Those are the carbine, the DMR, LMG, assault rifle and battue rifles. We are offering a single solution that can replace all these five weapons such as Dragunov sniper rifles, INSAS rifles, INSAS LMG, Sterling Carbine and AK variants.” He further claims that the rifles are lightest in the category, weighing only 3.5 kilogram, as compared to the four kilogram+ used by global counterparts. “Our solution is completely modular. You can simply change the rifle to convert it into a different model, according to ammunition needs. This can be done by the user on the spot, without any support of the armourer and tools,” he asserts.
Nyokas won the iDEX DISC in 2019. As the winner of the challenge, Nyokas received a grant of INR 1.15 Cr, which is the highest civilian grant for innovation in India. The winners of the challenge are awarded up to INR 1.5 Cr in funds, through equity and other relevant structures. Besides the fund, selected applicants may also be given entry to accelerator programs run by iDEX partners, where they are supported in technology and business development through mentorship under experts. The selected applicants may also be supported in terms of access to testing facilities and experts for product development. Nyokas has Forge Accelerator as its partner incubator for iDEX.
Nyokas Technologies is engaged in the development of individual protection systems, simply put, body armours which are splinter-proof and light-weight, including eyewear and helmets, with in-built sensors to track vitals such as body temperature and cardiac insights. Something which Sangwan calls a “Batman suit.” He added that getting defence certificates which mention that the company’s product is of required quality and complies with the regulatory standards can help them tap into civilian use cases. The same helps the company in its scale and growth.
The startup is incubated at the Maker Village in Kochi, Kerala. It is India’s largest electronics and hardware incubator, an initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), with the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala (IIITM-Kerala) as the implementation agency and the Kerala Startup Mission as the supporting partner. According to Sangwan, Maker Village brings several tangible benefits to defence tech startups. These include the availability of rapid prototyping tools, boot camps on venture development, innovation and entrepreneurship and scale-up hardware product development labs, to name a few.
Sangwan feels that the scientific approach to product management made possible by iDEX, Maker Village, and partner incubator Forge, helps a company deploy its product in 18 months, as opposed to 3-5 years which it takes without government support. “We will be deploying the product for user trials in another 6-8 months and are targeting to get a patent by December 2021,” says Sangwan.
DISC, HW Design Labs
Another defence tech startup and one of the 44 winners in the 2019 cycle of the DISC, HW Design Labs, is designing and developing hardware systems for wireless connectivity and advanced tracking. One of HW Design Labs’ flagship products is an FM-RDS (radio data service) based Disaster Warning Broadcast System, consisting of a hardware device and a mobile application. The device provides text messages and animated live indications as alerts for disaster management authorities. The warning messages could range from weather forecasts, wind speed, cyclonic conditions or flood alerts.
Besides this, the company is also developing a Real-Time Positioning System (r-POS), both GPS-based and non-GNSS (global navigation satellite systems) based. This is because, in certain locations, GNSS-based navigation systems cannot provide adequate performance, such as indoors or in urban canyons (where the street is flanked by tall buildings on both sides). The GNSS signals could also be jammed in some scenarios.
HW Design Labs’ r-POS provides 3D position data and inertial behaviour of the moving/flying machine, which needs finer levels of precision, especially in extreme weather conditions. The company has also developed a GPS Anti-Jam device, which helps in reducing the impact of GNSS signal jamming and disruption. Jayakrishnan adds that while the current model of iDEX is a great platform for defence tech startups, developing strategies for effective online interactions is the need of the hour because the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the company’s schedule.
Collaboration with US
India and the US are finalising a proposal that will enable defence teams to visit and liaison with a cutting-edge defence innovation unit in Silicon Valley. The plan is to engage with the newly set up Indian Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) that is looking to foster emerging technologies domestically for the armed forces and is modelled closely on the US organisation that has been operational since 2015.
The proposal, first made by the US side last year, will involve Indian teams coordinating with the US Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Mountain View, California. The plan is to engage with the newly set up Indian Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) that is looking to foster emerging technologies domestically for the armed forces and is modelled closely on the US organisation that has been operational since 2015.
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