Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The quad conundrum

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard editorial comment
31st Oct 17

The idea of India, Australia, Japan and the United States cooperating in defence and commerce in the Asia-Pacific has been around for over a decade. This “quadrilateral partnership” has also been referred to as a “Concert of Democracies”, underlining its counterpoise to authoritarian China. It first gained traction in 2007, when the four countries’ navies trained together in Exercise Malabar, prompting a diplomatic demarche from Beijing, which wrote to all four capitals acerbically asking who they were training to fight against. In 2008, the quadrilateral fell victim of domestic politics after Australia elected Kevin Rudd prime minister and the China-friendly leader promptly ended further quadrilateral engagement.

Now Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the driving force behind the 2007 quadrilateral, has again mooted a coming-together of the four countries, this time to “counteract” Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative and its growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which had expanded the bilateral US-India Exercise Malabar into a trilateral featuring Japan in 2016, and this year invited Australian military personnel to attend Malabar 2017 as “observers”, has signalled its willingness to include “like-minded countries” – code for Australia.

With New Delhi and Beijing increasingly at loggerheads – over issues such as China’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; Beijing’s help to Pakistan in preventing certain individuals from being proscribed as terrorists by the United Nations; India’s support to, and engagement with, the Dalai Lama, New Delhi’s public boycott of the Belt and Road Initiative, and acrimonious border confrontations such as the Doklam face-off in June-August this year – India’s participation in a quadrilateral arrangement would deal a body blow to the Sino-Indian relationship. While India must pursue its strategic interests single-mindedly without succumbing to extraneous pressure, New Delhi must carefully weigh the pros and cons of participating in such a grouping.

On the one hand, this would be a signal from New Delhi that Chinese aggression and animosity serves to push India closer to a rival camp, thus incurring a cost for Beijing. It would deepen New Delhi’s ties with three key capitals – Washington, Canberra and Tokyo – with attendant benefits in diplomatic leverage and burden sharing in defence. Finally, working with America and US allies in the Asia-Pacific would provide New Delhi significant leverage in shaping US policies in Afghanistan-Pakistan to the benefit of India.

On the flip side, India would be the only quadrilateral partner that does not enjoy a treaty relationship with the US. In the event of Chinese retaliation or provocation, New Delhi may end up alone. Furthermore, India is the only member of the proposed quadrilateral that has a land boundary with China, and a hotly contested one at that. Even if the quadrilateral provides assurances on India’s maritime security, the land boundary would inevitably remain India’s problem to deal with. Finally, if Beijing chooses to regard India’s participation in a quadrilateral as the abandonment of long-held non-alignment, China would have fewer incentives to keep India “sitting on the fence”. Instead, Beijing may feel unrestrained in propping up Pakistan as a counterweight to India.

Monday, 30 October 2017

US Navy aircraft carrier team to check out India’s Russian carrier

JWG expected to bring Washington’s “yes” to EMALS, so far fitted only on USS Gerald R Ford (above)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Oct 17

Underlining the navy’s growing closeness to the US Navy and its disillusionment with Russia, American members of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on aircraft carrier cooperation have been allowed to spend two days on board the Russian-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, in Goa on Monday and Tuesday.

The navy’s tilt towards Washington may not surprise Moscow any longer. But Russian eyebrows will surely be raised at US admirals visiting a Russian aircraft carrier, operating Russian aircraft.

On November 3, the JWG will meet again in New Delhi to discuss taking forward US-India cooperation on designing and building an India aircraft carrier. The JWG was set up during President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi in January 2015 and has held productive meetings ever since.

India’s navy has been scarred by Russia’s cost and time overruns in building INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov) and the dismal performance of the MiG-29K/KUB aircraft that Russia sold India as “sweeteners” to that deal.

Given the robust contrast posed by the US Navy’s carriers and the F/A-18E/F fighters that operate off them, the Indian Navy has enthusiastically embraced the JWG as a platform for accessing American aircraft carrier design and operational expertise, which Indian admirals describe as “an eye opener for us”.

India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-1), called INS Vikrant, which is expected to become fully operational in 2021, incorporates Russian design concepts, such as a “ski-jump” for on-board fighters to take-off. But the second aircraft carrier (IAC-2), called INS Vishal, is almost certain to be based on US Navy operational concepts, such as a catapult assisted take off.

One objective of taking the JWG members on board INS Vikramaditya is to assess ways of easing the Indian Navy’s transition from Russian carrier aviation concepts to those of the US Navy.

Over recent years, the Indian Navy has conceived INS Vishal as a smaller version of America’s newest super-carrier, the 100,000-tonne USS Gerald R Ford, which was commissioned this summer. It was hoped that INS Vishal would be a 65,000-70,000 tonne, nuclear-powered vessel that launched aircraft with an “electro-magnetic aircraft launch system.”

Called EMALS for short, this uses electro-magnetic energy to catapult aircraft to launch speed. It has begun equipping the next generation of US carriers, the so-called Gerald R Ford-class; replacing the six-decade-old steam-driven catapult that equips the Nimitz-class carriers that form the bulk of America’s carrier fleet.

However, as this newspaper first reported (October 27, “Navy drops cherished dream of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier”) indigenously developing a reactor for a Indian aircraft carrier will take another 15-20 years. Even so, India’s selection of EMALS would allow the US a place at the design table.

“Washington could well make the sale of EMALS conditional on designing IAC-2. They could cite the need to safeguard the EMALS technology and fitment from a designer who could potentially be a rival”, says a serving Indian admiral, speaking off the record.

Business Standard learns that New Delhi is expecting US members of the JWG to carry with them a positive Washington’s response to a Letter of Request for EMALS that the defence ministry had sent last year.

Any EMALS transaction would necessarily be a government-to-government sale under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

A key question the JWG will discuss is how the enormous power requirements of EMALS – estimated at one GigaWatt – can be met without nuclear propulsion. The US designer of EMALS, General Atomics, argues that an Integrated Electric Power System (IEPS), which is the alternative to nuclear propulsion, can provide sufficient power.

An IEPS consists of powerful gas turbines that drive electrical generators, generating power to turn the vessel’s propellers, as well as to meet onboard power requirements such as EMALS.

While India’s navy has put its requirements at three aircraft carriers – one for each coast, while the third undergoes maintenance, repair and upgrades – the carrier-building programme has been marred by delays. The navy will operate a single carrier until IAC-1 is commissioned at the end of 2021. The third carrier would only become effective by 2030-35, according to current estimates.

And it would then be less like the USS Gerald R Ford and more like the Royal Navy’s recently-commissioned aircraft carrier, the 70,000 tonne, gas turbine-powered Queen Elizabeth II, especially if the defence ministry turns down the navy’s EMALS request as excessively expensive.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Navy drops cherished dream of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

BARC says new reactor will take 15 years; navy must pay (pic: Royal Navy's aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth II)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Oct 17

The Indian Navy’s second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, will not be – as has been widely reported – an American-style, nuclear-powered “flat-top”. Instead, it will be a conventionally powered 65,000-70,000 tonne vessel, housing some 55 aircraft and incorporating a state-of-the-art “electro-magnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS) to catapult aircraft off the carrier.

This is the configuration being cleared through the defence ministry; Business Standard has learned through off-the-record interviews with five officials directly connected with the INS Vishal project.

The INS Vishal proposal is before the Services Capital Acquisition Categorisation Higher Committee, headed by the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. Before the year-end, it could be cleared by the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by the defence minister. Given its stratospheric cost, it will also require clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security.

The navy, which was eager to incorporate nuclear propulsion for INS Vishal, has been told by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) that it would take 15-20 years to develop a nuclear reactor powerful enough for an aircraft carrier, incorporating features to protect it from the corrosive and dynamic marine environment.

BARC has successfully developed a 190 Megawatt (MW) reactor for India’s fleet of four-to-six nuclear propelled, nuclear missile carrying submarines, of which the first – INS Arihant – has already been commissioned. However, INS Vishal would require a reactor capable of generating at least 500-550 MW. That means developing a brand new, miniaturised reactor, ruggedized against a marine environment.

Nor is such a 550 MW reactor in the development pipeline, because of a dispute over who will pay the bill. Says an indignant navy admiral: “BARC wants us to place a ‘developmental contract’ to fund the reactor’s development. Why should we do that?”

Contacted by email for comments, BARC did not respond.

Instead of nuclear reactors, an Integrated Electric Propulsion System (IEPS) will now drive INS Vishal. This will be based on gas turbines that drive generators to produce electricity. The electricity will rotate powerful electrical motors that will turn the warship’s propellers, driving it through the water.

In a nuclear powered warship, the reactor produces steam to drive the electrical generators that produce electricity. That drives the motors and, in turn, the propellers.

The challenge in designing a ship-borne nuclear reactor includes protecting it from saline corrosion, shock, impact and developing the radiation shielding needed to protect the crew – which would spend longer periods of time, in closer proximity to the reactors, than in land-based nuclear power generation plants. In addition, are the issues around refuelling the reactor cores and storing spent fuel.

Designing an IEPS-driven vessel involves different challenges, including identifying a compatible combination of gas turbines, generators and motors, says a designer involved in INS Vishal. Industry sources say India’s choice of conventional propulsion opens the doors for British and French shipyards to provide design assistance. Both are building conventionally powered aircraft carriers, while the US has built only nuclear powered carriers for decades.

Crucially, Indian Navy designers have concluded that an EMALS can be powered through gas turbine driven generators. The navy wants INS Vishal to have a catapult launch facility, which allows the launch of heavier and more diverse aircraft than the ski-jump launch fitted on Indian carriers – the in-service INS Vikramaditya and the under-construction INS Vikrant. Instead of six-decade-old steam catapult technology, the navy has decided to equip INS Vishal with EMALS, which America has fitted for the first time on its newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R Ford.

EMALS features what its maker, General Atomics, calls a “dial-up-a-power-level”, allowing catapult power to be adjusted to launch aircraft of completely different sizes – from a light drone to a 60-tonne P-3C Orion maritime surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft. EMALS can launch many more aircraft per hour and is easier to maintain. Steam catapults are more subject to corrosion and put far greater stress on the aircraft being launched. 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Tillerson pitches for new wave of US defence sales

Washington perceives Sea Guardian UAV acquisition as test of US-India relationship

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Oct 17

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting New Delhi at a delicate moment for American defence sales to India. Having rung up $15-18 billion in defence sales to New Delhi in the last decade, Washington is backing the US defence industry’s drive for a second wave of contracts that could add up to another $18-25 billion.

Addressing the media with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on Wednesday, Tillerson stated: “[W]e are willing to provide India advanced technologies for its military modernization efforts. This includes ambitious offers from American industry for F-16 and F/A-18 fighter planes.”

On October 18, speaking in Washington before his India visit, Tillerson specified additional platforms that could feature in India’s shopping basket. He said the US had put forward proposals for “[Sea] Guardian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), aircraft carrier technologies, the Future Vertical Lift program, and F-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft, [which] are all potential game changers for our commercial and defense cooperation.”

US policy insiders tell Business Standard that the Washington bureaucracy believes that, given the tight strategic partnership, US industry should, by right, get at least one of the two fighter contracts.

“We understand the F-16 might be at a disadvantage, owing to Indian perception that US has long supplied it to Pakistan. But the F/A-18E/F is a fantastic aircraft and Boeing has the go-ahead from Washington to set up a plant to build the fighter in India”, a former top Pentagon official told Business Standard.

India, however, is proceeding with competitive procurement. On January 25, the Indian Navy issued a Request for Information (RFI) to global manufacturers for 57 “multi-role carrier-borne fighters” (MRCBF). Consequently, the F/A-18E/F will probably compete with Dassault’s Rafale-M, Saab’s Sea Gripen and Russia’s MiG-29K/KUB that already flies with the Indian Navy.

The 57-fighter MRCBF deal is estimated to be worth $6-10 billion.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin, which has offered India the new F-16 Block 70, finds itself in hot competition with Saab’s new Gripen E fighter in the “single-engine fighter” category. With India likely to buy 100-200 of these fighters, the contract would be worth $7-14 billion.

A more sensitive matter for Washington, one that could seriously test US-India relations, is India’s request for 22 Sea Guardian UAVs for maritime surveillance of Indian Ocean waters.

Senior US defence industry executives say New Delhi initiated the request for the Sea Guardian in 2016, following it up with multiple high level requests in US-India meetings. The US administration, recognising a commercial as well as strategic opportunity, pulled out the stops to get it cleared in time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June.

US officials say obtaining export clearances involved intensive lobbying by the Indian ambassador in Washington, and by pro-Indian Senators on Capitol Hill. This also involved dealing with strong counter-lobbying by Pakistan-friendly groups in Washington.

Now, based on the commitment made during Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump in June, Washington responded to an Indian Letter of Request (LoR) for price and availability (P&A) of the Sea Guardian just days before Defence Secretary James Mattis’ visit to Delhi on 25-26 September. The cost would be in the region of $2-3 billion, say industry experts.

Inexplicably, since then, Indian interest in the Sea Guardian seems to have cooled, say US officials.

The Sea Guardian is a tightly controlled weapons platform, being in Category I under the Missile Technology Control Regime. This entails a strong “presumption of denial” to any export requests.

Contrary to media reports, the Sea Guardian is not strictly an unarmed platform. While it does not come with weapons, its wings are fitted with hard points for weapons carriage. If, at a later stage, India wants to weaponise the UAV, it would be possible to approach Washington for sanctions and weaponry.

Indian Navy officers say buying the Sea Guardian would undercut the rationale for buying more Boeing P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft. The navy has already signed up for 12 P-8Is, but would like to at least double that figure. However, the defence ministry would question the procurement of additional P-8Is, as well as Sea Guardians.

Perhaps the highest-tech piece of equipment that New Delhi and Washington are negotiating is a billion dollar “electromagnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS) for its second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, which is still to begin construction. This uses an electromagnetic rail gun to accelerate carrier-borne aircraft to take-off speed, replacing the conventional steam catapult.

The great advantage of EMALS is its “dial-up-a-power-level” capability, which allows it to safely and quickly launch aircraft of completely different sizes – from light UAVs to 60-tonne maritime surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft.

Sitharaman takes aim at China and Pakistan in Asean meeting

Sitharaman: “Hold nuclear and missile proliferators to North Korea accountable”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Oct 17

In her first foreign trip as defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman fired shots across the bows of both China and Pakistan on Tuesday, without naming the two countries.

Addressing the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Manila, Sitharaman called for safeguarding freedom of navigation, over flight and commerce in regional waters – a key concern of East Asian states that must live with an increasingly powerful and assertive China.

Taking aim at China’s growing penchant for unilateralism, Sitharaman stated: “Nations should resolve maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law. We support a rules based order for oceans and sea that is critical for the continued growth and development of the Indo-Pacific region.”

Deploring the recent nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea – or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – India pointed the finger at China and Pakistan for their widely suspected proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies to that country.

“It is important that DPRKs’ proliferation linkages are investigated and those who have supported its nuclear and missile programme are held accountable”, said Sitharaman.

On terrorism, Sitharaman stated: “The transnational activism of terrorist groups, the spectre of returning foreign fighters and the conduct of irresponsible states that provide safe havens, funding and even encouragement to terrorist groups all need to be addressed together and comprehensively. Terrorism anywhere is a threat everywhere.”

Maintaining pressure on Pakistan, Sitharaman cited last month’s BRICS Summit Declaration calling for action against several Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including the Laskhar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

ADMM-Plus, which was inaugurated in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010, is an annual meeting that brings together the defence ministers of ten Asean countries, with those of eight “dialogue partners”. These include India, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.

Placing controversial military issues on the side-lines, the ADMM-Plus focuses on seven areas of cooperation: namely maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping operations, military medicine, humanitarian mine action and cyber security.

India, like the other dialogue partners, talks up Asean as the framework for the Asia-Pacific security architecture. However, within Asean, there is little unified will for confronting Beijing. While Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore regard China as the premier regional security threat, others like Malaysia, Brunei and Philippines believe their interests lie in accommodating China.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Metallurgy skills are Kalyani Group’s springboard to defence production

The Kalyani Group's Bharat 52 gun, which is undergoing test firing at present

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 17

Indian engineers, who struggled for decades to design high-tech weaponry like the Tejas fighter and Arjun tank, are enjoying unusually quick success in developing what promises to be a world-class artillery gun.

At firing trials on September 4, prominent defence firm, Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division), was cock-a-hoop when its Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) fired three shells to a world-record 47.2 kilometres – three kilometres longer than contemporary guns.

But Tata Power (SED)’s record lasted just one day.

The next morning, a second ATAGS gun, which the Kalyani Group has built according to a parallel development strategy, broke that record by achieving a range of just over 48 kilometres.

Both guns achieved this record-breaking performance with “high explosive – base bleed” (HE-BB) ammunition, which is optimised for longer ranges.

The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), which conceived and designed the 155-millimetre, 52-calibre ATAGS, has fed the design to Tata Power (SED) and the Kalyani Group. Based on those requirements, the two companies have built and are test-firing competing gun prototypes.

While Tata Power (SED) has worked with the DRDO earlier, the new partnership with Kalyani Group is proving to be an inspired choice. The Pune-based firm has engineered a barrel and breech so good that the Tatas are using it in their gun as well.

While Kalyani Group is relatively new to modern defence systems that incorporate advanced information technology, its flagship company, Bharat Forge – the world’s largest forgings manufacturer – is a global leader in metallurgy expertise.

Metallurgy is fundamental to any defence industry, since it underpins the construction of guns, armoured platforms and warships. The 430-year-old German metals giant, Krupp, spearheaded the emergence of Germany’s defence industry, and leads it even today. The Kalyani Group believes it can do the same for India.

Says the Kalyani Group’s hard charging supremo, Babasaheb (Baba) Kalyani: “Our basic technology competence lies in metallurgy. We make our steel, we forge it, we machine it, we heat treat it. Very few companies in the world can match our skills in products like gun barrels.”

Over the years, Kalyani Group has integrated upstream as well as downstream from Bharat Forge. Pune-based Kalyani Carpenter and Kalyani Steels make alloy steel for the ATAGS barrel. Another group company, Mysore-based Automotive Axles, specialises in “drive lines”, on which the gun is mounted. A high-tech fabrication shop in Satara assembles the gun.

Business Standard visited the Kalyani Group facility in Pune, where the company is developing several artillery systems at its own cost, in order to develop skills. The guns are built in an artillery factory bought from Swiss defence firm, RUAG, and shipped in entirety from Austria to Pune.

Its produces include the 155-millimetre, 52 calibre Bharat 52, which is undergoing test firing; a 45 calibre version of the same gun; a truck-mounted 105-millimetre gun called the Garuda, which the army found so promising it financed it through the Army Technology Board; and a 155-millimetre, 39 calibre, titanium ultra-light howitzer that Kalyani is pitching against the BAE Systems M777 gun that India has contracted for.

“The Indian Army has already bought 145 M777 guns. But, by March [2018], my indigenous ultra-light howitzer will be ready to compete with the BAE Systems gun”, promises Kalyani.

Kalyani Group engineers who work on ATAGS say its exceptional range stems from its larger chamber – 25 litres, compared to 23 litres in similar guns. This allows the gun to be fired with more explosive, propelling the warhead further. To absorb the higher “shock of discharge”, Kalyani Group says it has built its barrel and breech with a complex new metallurgy.

Making ATAGS an easy-to-handle gun is an unprecedented all-electric system, in which machinery does what gun crews do manually in other guns: handling heavy ammunition, ramming it into the chamber and opening and closing the heavy breech.

Its one-of-a-kind, six-round “automated magazine” loads and fires a six-round burst in just 30 seconds. Most other guns in service have three-round magazines that must be reloaded after firing three rounds.

Firing off six rounds in 30 seconds is an important capability since artillery causes most casualties in the initial burst of fire, which catches enemy soldiers in the open. Once they dive into their trenches, artillery fire is less effective.

“The ATAGS team has created a new benchmark in artillery. For decades, no new artillery gun has been designed anywhere in the world. This is the first gun in 30 years designed afresh, from scratch”, points out Baba Kalyani.

The next test for the gun is “cold weather trials” in Sikkim in December. Before then, the gun will undergo some modifications. To expedite trials, Tata Power (SED) and Kalyani Group will start the building of three more ATAGs prototypes.

“India will become one of the largest exporters of military hardware in the next 10-15 years”: Baba Kalyani

Baba Kalyani says Kalyani Group will turn over Rs 2,000 crore annually in defence manufacture

Q.         Large metals giants, like Krupp in Germany, have traditionally spearheaded the development of national defence industries. Is the Kalyani Group riding on such capabilities?

We are the Krupp of India. In fact, two years ago, we beat ThyssenKrupp in their own backyard to become the world’s biggest supplier of metallurgical components. Before 2005, we were not even in this business. Today, we have 60 per cent of the global market in high performance metallurgical components.

We are now global leaders in metallurgy. We make our steel, we forge it, we machine it, we heat treat it. Very few companies in the world can match us in manufacturing demanding products like gun barrels. Companies come to us from Europe for design, engineering, testing and validation of metallurgical components.

Q.        Artillery systems are your new thrust. What are the opportunities here?

The Indian army needs artillery systems. The programme for 1,500 towed guns alone will be worth Rs 25,000-30,000 crore, at Rs 15-16 crore rupees per gun. The army’s website projects a requirement for 4,000 different guns – ultra-light, self-propelled, towed and others. This is an Rs 45,000-50,000 crore opportunity, of which we can snap up half, based on our capability and cost competitiveness.

Q.         How much revenue would this generate on an annual basis?

About Rs 2,000 crore annually, counting replacement parts and maintenance.

Q.         How big is the Kalyani Group in defence today?

This year we will do Rs 500 crore of defence business. This is basically components like wheels for tanks, armoured vehicle components and ammunition shells to Europe. But, once we are asked to manufacture, say 1,000 Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS), our defence turnover will rise quickly.

Q.        Is it wise to put so many eggs in the ATAGS basket?

The ATAGS team has created a new benchmark in 155-millimetre artillery. For decades, no similar gun has been designed anywhere in the world. This is the first gun in 30 years designed afresh, from scratch. This will be a world-beater. Next year it will be in every Jane’s magazine. Nobody has a gun like this. With a range of 45 plus kilometres, it’s an amazing weapon.

Q.        You are also developing a titanium-based ultra-light howitzer (ULH). But the army has already bought these guns from abroad…

The army has bought 145 M777 guns from BAE Systems. By March [2018], our indigenous ULH will be ready to compete with that gun. The army needs many more.

Q.         Has MoD conveyed interest?

When [former defence minister] Manohar Parrikar visited us to inaugurate our plant, he was interested. We showed him the model of the ULH we were building and he assured us: “For all future guns we will come to you.”

But we’ll have to pass evaluation and we are ready to go through the process. We are very confident. It is not just for India, I’m sure our ULH will find buyers worldwide. Even Japan is interested in light artillery.

Q.         Private defence firms like yours are relying heavily on being nominated as “strategic partner” (SP). What are your views on the new SP policy?

Honestly, I think we need a lot of clarification about the SP policy. I’ve heard three versions of the SP model. But, looking at it positively, defence production will get a boost.

Q.         There is criticism that the SP policy is exclusionary, with nominated firms gaining everything, and the other left without orders. For example if you are chosen as SP for land systems, you get excluded from aerospace manufacture…

This is not correct. We can be a strategic partner for one segment, and a development partner, or Tier 1 or Tier 2 vendor for another. For building a fighter in India, at least 150 companies will be needed. There is space for all, not just the strategic partner.

Q.        So the Kalyani Group is betting big on defence?

In the next 10-15 years, India will become one of the largest exporters of military hardware. It may not be fighters or highly sophisticated stuff, but will include equipment like land systems, artillery, ammunition, missiles, bombs; we will master these technologies quickly, and do it cheaper than anybody else. The Kalyani Group will be a big part of this.