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Can Defence Tech Startups Match Up To Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Problem?

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The federal government has discovered itself between a rock and a tough place with its ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ or ‘self-reliant India’ name. With the second-largest armed forces on the earth, India is saddled between the rising value of defence imports and the necessity to look inward to muscle up the forces with the newest high-tech weapons and upgrades.  

In line with information from the Stockholm Worldwide Peace Analysis Institute (SIPRI), India was the world’s second-largest arms importer, accounting for 9.2% of the worldwide arms imports from 2015-19. The overwhelming dependence on Russian arms has declined, just for India to diversify its arms stockpile, now inking defence offers with the USA, Israel and France, amongst varied others. In line with one other SIPRI report titled ‘Trends In World Military Expenditure, 2019’, India is the third-largest army spender on the earth, after the US and China, with its army spending rising by 6.8% to $71.1 Bn in 2019. 

Of their e book titled, ‘Arming Without Aiming: India’s Navy Modernization’, South Asia safety knowledgeable Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, a Senior Fellow at Brookings, cited the absence of a coherent army technique, in addition to lack of political will in successive governments, as causes behind India failing to ramp up its defence manufacturing capabilities. They hint the roots of those flaws to decisions made earlier than and since independence. Nevertheless, a couple of completely different decisions appear to have been made in the previous couple of years.

Appearing on its ‘Make in India’ rhetoric, the BJP-led authorities has launched a slew of measures to energy native defence manufacturing, exploring linkages between {industry}, academia and the personal sector. Earlier this 12 months, the Defence Analysis and Improvement Organisation (DRDO) was trying to set up laboratories for futuristic applied sciences, below the title of DRDO Younger Scientist Laboratories (DYSL). These labs had been to be positioned in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad. Additional, the federal government was additionally trying to present MSMEs, who provide protecting army gear, with working capital financing. These measures are consistent with the federal government’s imaginative and prescient to make India one of many prime 5 defence and aerospace producers on the earth, with an annual defence exports goal of $5 Bn by 2025.

At the moment, 194 defence tech startups are innovating below the federal government’s ‘Startup India’ mission. Of those, greater than 50 are creating new ‘fit-for-military-use’ applied sciences and merchandise below the federal government’s initiative, ‘Innovations for Defence Excellence’ (iDEX). These startups are looking for options to the varied drawback statements that iDEX places forth in its Defence India Startup Challenges (DISC), starting from particular person splinter-proof safety fits to real-time positioning methods. 

Massive Push For Defence Tech By iDEX

In 2018, the federal government launched ‘Innovations For Defence Excellence’ (iDEX), an initiative to foster the entrepreneurial zeal amongst MSMEs, startups, people, analysis and improvement institutes and academia. By the initiative, these demonstrating capabilities of creating progressive applied sciences in defence are supplied with each funding and incubation help. The federal government’s Defence India Startup Challenges (DISC), which include drawback statements, deal with leveraging startups’ capabilities to fulfil the wants of armed forces. iDEX is funded and managed by the Defence Innovation Organisation, a not-for-profit firm. 

Ajay Sangwan, founder and inventive director of Nyokas Applied sciences, a defence tech startup, says, “Finding the buyer in the defence sphere is very time-consuming. Through iDEX, we have the benefit of working in direct collaboration with the end-user, which are the armed forces. The availability of Electronics System Development and Manufacturing (ESDM) facilities and materials labs in the public and private sector is a huge plus.”  

Nyokas Applied sciences is engaged within the improvement of particular person safety methods, merely put, physique armours that are splinter-proof and lightweight, together with eyewear and helmets, with in-built sensors to trace vitals corresponding to physique temperature and cardiac insights. One thing which Sangwan calls a “Batman suit.”  

He added that getting defence certificates which point out that the corporate’s product is of required high quality and complies with the regulatory requirements may help them faucet into civilian use instances. The identical helps the corporate in its scale and development. 

Nyokas gained the iDEX DISC in 2019. Because the winner of the problem, Nyokas obtained a grant of INR 1.15 Cr, which is the best civilian grant for innovation in India. The winners of the problem are awarded as much as INR 1.5 Cr in funds, by means of fairness and different related buildings. In addition to the fund, chosen candidates may be given entry to accelerator packages run by iDEX companions, the place they’re supported in know-how and enterprise improvement by means of mentorship below consultants. The chosen candidates may be supported when it comes to entry to testing amenities and consultants for product improvement. Nyokas has Forge Accelerator as its accomplice incubator for iDEX.

The startup is incubated on the Maker Village in Kochi, Kerala. It’s India’s largest electronics and {hardware} incubator, an initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and Info Expertise (MeitY), with the Indian Institute of Info Expertise and Administration, Kerala (IIITM-Kerala) because the implementation company and the Kerala Startup Mission because the supporting accomplice. In line with Sangwan, Maker Village brings a number of tangible advantages to defence tech startups. These embrace the provision of speedy prototyping instruments, boot camps on enterprise improvement, innovation and entrepreneurship and scale-up {hardware} product improvement labs, to call a couple of. 

Sangwan feels that the scientific strategy to product administration made attainable by iDEX, Maker Village, and accomplice incubator Forge, helps an organization deploy its product in 18 months, versus 3-5 years which it takes with out authorities help. “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.

One other defence tech startup and one of many 44 winners within the 2019 cycle of the DISC, HW Design Labs, is designing and creating {hardware} methods for wi-fi connectivity and superior monitoring.

Jayakrishnan A L, founder and CEO of HW Design Labs, concurs with Sangwan’s evaluation of the advantages accrued by startups at Maker Village. “Such missions require huge investments in the early stages of development. The solution we develop under the iDEX program requires a range of tests and lab equipment, tools and software licenses, among others. By providing these facilities under one roof, the Maker Village facilitates life cycle management of the product.”

One in all HW Design Labs’ flagship merchandise is an FM-RDS (radio information service) primarily based Catastrophe Warning Broadcast System, consisting of a {hardware} system and a cell software. The system gives textual content messages and animated dwell indications as alerts for catastrophe administration authorities. The warning messages may vary from climate forecasts, wind pace, cyclonic circumstances or flood alerts.

In addition to this, the corporate can also be creating a Actual-Time Positioning System (r-POS), each GPS-based and non-GNSS (international navigation satellite tv for pc methods) primarily based. It is because, in sure places, GNSS-based navigation methods can not present enough efficiency, corresponding to indoors or in city canyons (the place the road is flanked by tall buildings on each side). The GNSS indicators may be jammed in some eventualities. 

HW Design Labs’ r-POS gives 3D place information and inertial behaviour of the transferring/flying machine, which wants finer ranges of precision, particularly in excessive climate circumstances. The corporate has additionally developed a GPS Anti-Jam system, which helps in lowering the influence of GNSS sign jamming and disruption. 

Jayakrishnan provides that whereas the present mannequin of iDEX is a good platform for defence tech startups, creating methods for efficient on-line interactions is the necessity of the hour as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the corporate’s schedule. 

Different startups corresponding to Sastra Robotics, which has developed scalable automated robotics options, and EyeROV, India’s first underwater drone, amongst others have additionally obtained validation from the DRDO. Many of the Indian startups with defence tech functions are primarily based in Kerala, which has emerged because the hub of India’s {hardware} ecosystem. 

Are We Changing into Aatma Nirbhar In Defence? 

After border clashes with China in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley in June, the federal government’s imaginative and prescient of an ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ was additionally echoed within the Draft Defence Manufacturing and Export Promotion Coverage (DPEPP), 2020, launched 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 coverage, meant to function an “overarching guiding document to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports.” 

In line with information from SIPRI, India made a modest entry at quantity 23 within the record of world arms exporters for 2015-19, the primary time it has figured on the record. Additional, the Ministry of Defence’s annual report for 2018-19 data that the defence exports had been value INR 10,745 Cr, a development of greater than 100% from 2017-18 (INR 4,682 Cr) and over 700% since 2016-17 (INR 1,521 Cr). India’s largest purchasers are its neighbouring nations corresponding to Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. 

The draft coverage provides that iDEX can be scaled as much as interact with 300 extra startups and develop 60 new applied sciences/ merchandise in the course of the subsequent 5 years. 

To reinforce collaboration with these corporations, the Defence Analysis Improvement Organisation (DRDO) has developed a brand new industry-friendly patent coverage for switch of DRDO developed applied sciences to industries. The coverage would assist Indian startups get free entry for utilizing DRDO patents and dealing on progressive options geared toward bettering India’s defence capabilities.

Whereas there are many positives within the nation’s push for self-reliance within the defence sphere and assimilation of startups within the defence ecosystem, a couple of issues stay. 

The small print tabled by Shripad Naik, former Minister of State for Defence within the Lok Sabha in February final 12 months confirmed that during the last 5 years, whereas the procurement from Indian distributors had elevated from 2014 to 2018, it fell by 10.8% within the fiscal 12 months 2018-19.

In detailing the yearly procurement, the minister had proven that whereas the procurement from Indian distributors was INR 39.8K Cr in 2014-15, it improved essentially the most in 2017-18 reaching INR 43.6K Cr, however fell to its lowest in 5 years, to INR 38.9K Cr in 2018-19. Maybe, 2018-19 was an off-year. One can’t disregard the constant incline within the procurement from Indian distributors from 2014-18. Nevertheless, the issues with India’s defence sector don’t finish there. 

Defence Price range Inadequate For Modernisation

In line with analysts, the marginal hike of 5.8% within the defence funds for 2020-21, to INR 3.37 lakh Cr (excluding pensions), can be inadequate to fulfill the armed forces’ modernisation wants. The share of the defence funds within the general union funds has additionally been declining through the years. 

With rising border tensions and a hostile geopolitical surroundings in India’s speedy neighbourhood, the deal with capital outlay for the armed forces, and ameliorating native defence manufacturing capabilities, is stronger than ever. A day earlier than India’s 74th Independence Day, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh launched a web-based portal which would supply details about defence tools that may be taken up for indigenisation. Earlier this week, the federal government imposed an import embargo on 101 defence objects, which it believes may be manufactured domestically. Earlier this 12 months, the federal government elevated the FDI cap in defence manufacturing from 49% to 74% below the automated route, in a bid to encourage privatisation within the sector.

The iDEX, which is in its third 12 months, is actually a boon for the budding defence tech startups in India. The seeds have been sown for indigenisation of the armed forces’ applied sciences and tools. It stays to be seen whether or not India can climb additional up within the record of arms’ exporters, on the again of futuristic merchandise and applied sciences developed by defence tech startups. 



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