India May Take A Decade To Develop Fighter Engine: BN Kalyani, Bharat Forge
Bharat Forge Chairman and Managing Director Babasaheb Neelkanth Kalyani are confident that India can develop its own fighter jet engine — the lack of which is seen as a reason for the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft taking decades to take shape from the drawing board to the manufacturing stage. Kalyani’s estimate is that it could take India about a decade to develop a fighter jet engine with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation taking the lead. Edited excerpts from an interview.
How have the measures announced for defence production under “AtmanirbharBharat” helped?
We pretty much believe that there are many areas where with this entire focus on Atmanirbhar Bharat and making India self reliant in defence and creating our own technology rather than depending on outside technology, I think India is going to emerge very very strong in many sectors in the defence industry.
Which are these areas? Artillery guns? That’s something you have talked of yourself.
Many companies in India are going to emerge very strong in this sector in the next five years. As far as Indian companies are concerned and the technology ownership is Indian is largely coming out of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) process. I think DRDO is the central pillar which is creating defence technology. And the model that the DRDO is now adopting for the last few years is getting more and more industry partners right in the beginning of every programme making them do part developments on their own. So, there is a huge change in the whole ecosystem that is coming up. We had a DRDO seminar today (Thursday) and the theme was you have one DRDO and if you have 100 companies that are working with DRDO and they have their own little R& D centres then you have 100 mini DRDOs and the result of this is exponential. It is not just a participation of 100 companies, you get exponential results and that is what you are beginning to see in India as a matter of fact.
You have said that India needs to have its own fighter jet engine, make its own fighter jet engine. Any progress on that from your side?
India needs to make a fighter engine. This is one technology which is part of the strategic technology development plan of even the DRDO. And for this you need a consortium of industry partners to be involved in this because it involves a lot of capital, it involves a lot of talent and it involves multiple technologies. I think the DRDO has already started the programme on AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) engines, they are putting their internal teams together which is ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency), GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment), HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics) all these people together. And they would obviously need industry partners to make the parts and the real metal that is required in the engine. It will happen.
Any timeline by when it could happen?
Making a brand new engine, you know, even on a pessimistic basis is a seven to 10 year programme.
You spoke about Indian owned technology. India’s own technology base is seen as weak if you go by the number patents registered for example. How does one strengthen the Innovation and R & D culture?
I think it is very necessary for a country and an economy of our size if it wants to grow to the first step – a $5 trillion economy, the dream that we all have along with our honourable prime minister – without R & D that is not going to happen. It cannot happen on foreign technology. A large of it has to happen on our own technology. We have proven this in the covid-19 pandemic. Within two months we were able to make PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment), ventilators, all kind of facilities that were required for treating patients including tests and testing centres. That shows what capability this country has inherently. It just needs to get rid of its silos and work in a unified direction. I think “Atmanirbhar Bharat” is creating that unified direction. If we can get rid of the silos I think India will go miles.
When are we likely to see foreign orders for Indian made defence hardware?
That’s a difficult question. But you build the talent, you build the capability, you build an ecosystem, the business has to flow. Like water finds its own level, the business will find its own level.
Your company was in the process of manufacturing Advanced Towed Artillery Guns (ATAGs). What is the progress on that?
The ATAG is in testing phase.
When is the order from the Indian Army expected to come through?
That’s a difficult question to answer.
You also had plans to develop small arms. Any progress on that?
We are working on it. We are quite confident that with our capabilities, we can make that happen.