Electronics Gains Major Focus in Defence: Ajay Kumar

By Anantha Narayanan K 19-Jul-2018

“India is one of the fastest growing civil aviation markets in the world. Our space as well as aerospace sectors are marking exceedingly rapid growth over the last few years. All these give tremendous growth opportunities to electronics and avionics manufacturers. Earlier, the focus was mainly given to the military sector in defence, but now cyber and electronic warfare domains, which are the two determining factors of a country’s defence capabilities, demand special attention. Therefore, electronics sector receives a great attention from defence perspective,” says Dr Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Department of Defence Production.

Today, there is an increasing dependence on electronics in the defence sector in India like everywhere else. And, this is visible both on the weapon as well as day-to-day operations sides. Artificial Intelligence is increasingly becoming the order of the day and it is expected to witness a huge growth in the coming years. Electronics play a prominent role in achieving success in the field and hence receives great attention, said Dr Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Department of Defence Production. He was addressing a conference at Bharat Electronics limited, Bangalore.

Ajay Kumar has said that when he joined the then Department of Information Technology in 2011, he was entrusted with the task of development of electronics manufacturing. At that time, the industry scenario was very pessimistic as people thought that after the signing of ITA, there would be an increasing dependence on imports and the electronics imports will exceed all other items shortly. “But the government started looking at the electronics sector a lot more seriously and renamed the department itself to Department of Electronics and IT. Thereafter, the national Policy on Electronics came out in 2012, followed by a series of initiatives from the government side through extensive consultation with stakeholders, academicians etc. These policies continue to be relevant even now,” he said.

In the last four years, there have been more than 150 investments in the electronic sector which are worth over 1.25 Lakh Crores. It includes both multinational and Indian companies. “In fact, today wherever in the world there happens a discussion on investments in electronics sector, India secures a spot in the concentration zone. We are one of the countries which the biggest and best of the companies do analyse for expanding their business,” he added.

Electronics in Commercial Sector

The biggest success is that a lot of Indian companies, which are not mainly in the electronics manufacture, have decided to enter the sector over the last few years, seeing the competent opportunities. The companies like Hero group, Adani, Tata, Sterlite, Lava, among others who chose to make fresh investments and several other are looking to focus in the sector with more thrust. A lot of Indian companies are having the confidence to come out with IPOs, successfully navigate them and do well in the share market. This is the reflection of the confidence of investors to put their money into the Indian electronic manufacturing sector. These are healthy trends that need to be followed,” he said.

There are other significant progresses. Mobile phone assembly and components manufacture sector has seen 103 new units being set up in the last three years. Mobile phones are one single item that constitutes the biggest fraction in the total consumption if electronics goods in India. The total production of mobile phones has increased to 19000 Crores in 2014-15 to 1.4 Lakh Crores this year, achieving a remarkable seven-time growth. It is not only mobile phones but several other items like smart TVs, which saw a growth of 1.5 times more in the last three years, LED light with 3 times growth in three years, automotive electronics, solar cell manufacture etc. are contributing to the growth of the sector.

“We have made landmark achievements in the development of indigenous conditional access systems for Set-Top Boxes (STBs).  We were importing all the components of the Conditional Access Systems (CAS), which is the heart of STBs, till about 2015. Then, a joint initiative by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) and an industry partner from Bangalore has developed and deployed around 5 Lakhs boxes in two years. Now, the number of STBs with Indian-made CAS is more than 12 Lakhs. Now, they are focusing on exports,” added Ajay Kumar.

Electronic Development Fund, an initiative targeted to support more innovations in the electronic sector, has approved, by March 2017, a total corpus of Rs. 11000 Crores of which Rs.1000 Crores is government support. The fund has been utilising to support those companies who are willing to take risky projects in the sector. They also focus on developing new areas with the help of Centre of Excellence like IISc, IITs etc. All these indicate only the tip of the iceberg and there are many other things that brought forth significant changes in the base of sector during 2012-18.

Electronics manufacture is one of the sectors in which Make in India has made visible impacts and has tremendous potential to make use of. There are many areas in the sector where India still have to make progress. “One of them is the indigenous chip design and manufacture. Despite significant efforts, a commercial-scale chip manufacturing facility is yet to become a reality in the country. Though we have a semiconductor complex operational at Mohali, to have an ecosystem of designing and fabrication of chips and creating a thrusted supply chain around that continues to be an elusive wish as far as India is concerned. I think this is one area of challenge we need to collectively work together and bring changes,” he said.

A Defence Perspective of Electronics Sector

“India is one of the fastest growing civil aviation markets in the world. Our space as well as aerospace sectors are marking exceedingly rapid growth over the last few years. All these give tremendous growth opportunities to electronics and avionics manufacturers. Earlier, the focus was mainly given to the military sector in defence, but now cyber and electronic warfare domains, which are the two determining factors of a country’s defence capabilities, demand special attention. Therefore, electronics sector receives a great attention from defence perspective,” he said.

Developing electronic products in the defence industry is more difficult and challenging than that for the civilian purpose. In defence sector, sustenance over a long period is more important compared to civilian sector, where obsolescence moves along with the changing technologies. The drawbacks of critical technologies can lead to denial of access at crucial times. It can lead to lack of control on mission critical operations. Counterfeit chips with malicious circuitry can lead to consequences adverse to the interests of defence forces.

There is a need to make weapons smarter and autonomous. There is a great demand for increasing unmanned capabilities by making the weapons self-aware and react to adverse situations. The use of augmented reality to support the soldier at front, use of 3-D Printing to create specialised components and spares within the shortest possible time and for very sophisticated & complex designs, create ubiquitous communication in difficult and inaccessible terrain, enemy territory, create encryption and decryptions easily are some of the factors which will have significant influence in the coming days.

The Ministry of Defence has taken numerous initiatives to support and increase thrust the electronics sector. The Defence Production Policy promotes the participation of private players in the industry. The Prime Minister has launched the IDEX team (Innovation in Defence for Excellence) in April 2018 as an effort to bring MSME, startups to work in the sector by being a framework that will be an interface to interact with the defence forces and understand the problems, requirements and try to solve them in a trusted environment. IDEX has been steered by Defence Innovation Organisation, which is created by Bharat Electronics Limited and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Other defence firms are also going to be part of it in future,” said Ajay Kumar.

Another important feature is the new offset guidelines, using which government organisations, DRDO, PSUs, DPSUs, academia can take investments in new technologies. Electronics is going to be an integral part in all the new technologies in defence sector. “Today, there is encouragement and big multipliers if new JVs are made by offset providers with Indian industry. The implementation of public procurement order is another thing. MoD has asked all DPSUs to give preference to domestically manufactured defence product over the imported ones. We are in the process of identifying products to be promoted through indigenisation and this include electronics goods too,” he said.

The government is also looking forward to setting up a testing infrastructure for defence electronics. Also, there are efforts to promote indigenisation of electronic goods. There is a task force set up to explore the possibilities of AI in defence and all DPSUs have been asked to develop their own AI roadmap,” he said.