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Digital Transformation of Defence

Story Highlights
  • Recommendations:
  • ▪ Promote Public Private partnerships allowing the industry to gear up with newer technologies.
  • ▪ The government to engage MSMEs, Startups, R&D institutes and academia on a large scale.
  • ▪ The government should adequately fund the small enterprises and Startups, which otherwise will find it difficult to survive.
  • ▪ Create NextGen systems by tweaking our existing technologies and knowledge-base.
  • ▪ Time in India to look forward with our digital technology prowess. Startups and traditional industries have to play a major role in leveraging these strengths.
  • ▪ Digital technologies are not just for external defence as they have a major role to play in internal defence and security as well.
  • ▪ Transformation from automotive to aerospace is critical to meet civilian and military requirements and propel automotive sector SMEs and MSMEs growth.
  • ▪ Need for a robust digital platform for SME and Startup world to showcase their innovations.
  • ▪ Standardisation of processes has to play a critical role in bringing this transformation.
  • ▪ India can quickly implement some existing digital technologies in areas of border security to move faster on a digital transformation track.
  • ▪ Putting digital technologies into supply chain will aid user expectations and bring cost effectiveness.
  • ▪ Various departments are functioning on multiple issues and hence we need a common entity to address the challenges.
  • ▪ Government to provide export help to SMEs and small players who are getting good traction in foreign countries and need to show their product strength.
  • ▪ Indian exporters should diversify the product line to be internationally competitive.
  • ▪ Data can be impactfully utilised to ensure safety, timeliness, cost effectiveness and so on.

The government has taken major policy initiatives in the defence production to promote Make in India. Defence Procurement Policy has helped to stimulate growth of the domestic defence industry. An innovative ecosystem for defence (iDEX) to foster innovation and technology development by engaging MSMEs, Startups, R&D institutes and academia thus has been created. Yet, digital transformation in the defence sector still has a long way to go. The sector touches half of the total level of digitisation in India, which needs to catch up.

According to Sanjay Jaju, Joint Secretary, Defence Production, Ministry of Defence and CEO, iDEX, a lot is happening in the defence space but the fact is that India is still 10-20 years behind the world. On software and digital technologies, we have a prowess. The need of the hour is to create NextGen systems by tweaking our existing technologies and knowledge base in this direction.

“Our DRDO are also investing in some of the best deeper technologies. We might have not built superior fighter aircrafts but we are now in the position of building world-class drones and autonomous systems. It is time for us to look forward with our digital technology prowess. Here Startups and traditional industries have to play a major role in leveraging these strengths. We have all the potential to produce not only for India but for the rest of the world. Digital technologies are not just for external defence as they have a major role to play in internal defence and security,” he further added.

India is the fastest growing aerospace market in the world. With automotive parts getting a bigger hit now because of the electric systems coming in, the industry has to gear up to become the aerospace component manufacturing hub. This transformation from automotive to aerospace is not only critical to meet our civilian and military requirements but also to ensure that SMEs and MSMEs in automotive sector can take the next big leap with aerospace.

Indian defence sector has been dominated by DPSUs, Ordnance Factories and so on following traditional methods. The need of the hour is to keep pace with changing modern digital technologies which hinders Transfer of Technology (ToT).

S Guruprasad, DG (PC & SI), DRDO claimed that India is at the cusp of a digital revolution in the defence segment with advance research and development. DRDO has established five new labs in futuristic technologies. We will be future ready with these initiatives as and when the applications of these technologies will be in place. He further said, “Time and cost management of projects with a greater industry participation is another priority area. We are setting up new processes and policies to promote the private players in the space.”

Experts argued on different immediate steps required to overcome gaps in supply chain in defence products, knowledge gaps and real-time information in an era of increasing user expectation and cost effectiveness.

Amit Cowshish, Former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence and Consultant with defence think tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) recommended that digital transformation is imperative and is not a question of choice anymore. “We are not even closer to the average digital transformation rate across the globe and hence a lot has to be done. There is a conceptual parallax in understanding and defining Digital transformation.” Foremost, is to create a platform where industry can openly share its opinion on various methods and steps required to integrate digital technology in defence sector.

“Various departments are functioning on multiple issues and hence we need a common entity to address these challenges. This will also help propel with digital transformation. Also, adequate provisions are required to facilitate the incorporation of Digital Technology. There is a need to fine-tune our aspirations and roadmap to the likely availability of funds, which remains a challenge,” he further added.

Munish Sharma, Consultant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) said, “Digitisation is not an end result but a means to bring ease to the entire process. We need to have a long-term and mid-term technology forecast mechanism in place. This can be supported with appropriate structuring of funding. Value addition has to be a critical part of defence planning. There is a need to invest in fundamental sciences. India can’t function alone in this space and hence we should also look at various ways to tap the global technology supply chain. We should see technology as an agent of change.”

Digital technologies can be very effectively utilised for border security. “Both our public and private sector have these technologies available. We can quickly implement some digital technologies to move faster on the digital transformation,” suggested Vishwakumara Kayargadde, COO, Saankhya Labs. As a first step we need to integrate our existing systems with AI, IOT etc. “Data can be impactfully utilised to ensure safety, timeliness and cost effectiveness,” added Prem Vir Singh, Senior Vice President, Best Koki Automotive. According to Jasmer Lather, Managing Director, Aero Fasteners, “Putting digital technologies into supply chain will aid user expectations and bring cost effectiveness.”

R Sundaram, Managing Director & CEO, Aerospace Engineers argued that with AI and other futuristic technologies, we can control the project success factors easily by reducing the uncertainty to propel innovation. Nowadays it has become very difficult for SMEs and MSMEs to invest and those who are willing to invest their ROI is reserved for ages. Government should provide export assistance to SMEs and small players who are getting good traction in foreign countries and need to show their product strength.

Sanjay Jaju further suggested that it is not Government’s business to do business. We want industries to prosper in the category. Our endeavour is to enable defence establishments to procure products and technologies directly. We have certain categories of projects, which are reserved only for MSMEs and Startups to ensure that they overcome the challenges and grow at a faster pace.

Sanjay Jaju, Joint Secretary, Defence Production, Ministry of Defence and CEO, iDEX

We are calling this Defence 4.0 and not Industry 4.0, which will soon be a reality in next 10-20 years. Artificial Intelligence has to play a key role in future wars. It will reduce the chances of human error in defence sector. With digital defence shaping up, there is huge scope for Augmented and Virtual reality.

Digital Transformation is drastically happening at the production side. Majority of our traditional factories are going to be transformed with the help of digital technologies.

We are the fastest growing aerospace market in the world with a year-on-year growth of close to 18 per cent. With automotive parts getting a bigger hit now because of the electric systems coming in, the industry has to gear-up to become the aerospace component manufacturing hub. This transformation from automotive to aerospace is not only critical to meet our civilian and military requirements but also to ensure that SMEs and MSMEs in automotive sector can take the next leap with aerospace.

iDEX is playing the role of a bridge for civilian innovations to reach the armed forces. The gap is a huge challenge not just in India but across the world. This is the government’s attempt to solve it. At iDEX our focus is on identifying, incubating and supporting startups not just for the product development but to transform them into business entities. We are also creating a Startup platform on iDEX portal to allow innovation and disruption in the space to be showcased to the world. We have also issued a policy to ensure that the entire testing infrastructure in defence production will not be a monopoly of public sector to promote private sector to access it easily.

S Guruprasad, DG (PC & SI), DRDO

DRDO has established five new labs in futuristic technologies. We have handpicked young scientists in each of these labs who are working in five niche technology areas, i.e., artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, cognitive technologies, asymmetric technologies and smart materials. Each of these laboratories are focused towards the development of futuristic defence systems.

Most of these young scientists’ labs are situated in academic institutes. DRDO has created several centres of excellence in these institutes. Senior scientists at DRDO and academicians across the country are mentoring these young scientists for core research in futuristic defence systems and technologies. We are also engaged with PHD students to carry forward research in advance technologies. We will be future ready with these initiatives as and when the applications of these technologies will be in place.

Time and cost management of projects with a greater industry participation is another priority area. We are setting up new processes and policies to promote the private players in the space. We have come up with a policy for identification of a Development-cum-Production Partner (DcPP) in which the industry will be involved in all stages of system development. We have received an immense response from the industry and private players are enthusiastic to take part specially in big-ticket items such as development and integration of systems which was earlier the domain of big players.

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