Two years ago, in the spring of 2018, L&T had unleashed a thunder in the Indian defence industry by displaying the 1st K9 Vajra Self-propelled Howitzer Gun at the DefExpo in Chennai!
Manufactured by L&T Defence to empower the Indian Army, K9 Vajra was the prime attraction in the Make in India Pavilion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself climbed up and posed with it. Nine months later, he called on at L&T’s newly built Armoured Systems Complex (ASC) at Hazira in Gujarat, rode the 10th Vajra on the test tracks and dedicated ASC to the Nation.
Now, two years later, on the back of the Defence Minister flagging off the 51st K9 Vajra a fortnight ago, L&T is again set to trigger a buzz with its bouquet of capabilities on display at DefExpo 2020 in Lucknow from 5-8 February.The bouquet of multiple transformational defence solutions is topped by wirefeed 3D Printing that L&T is using for manufacturing some critical parts for defence apparatuses.
“In near future, 3D Printing will move from metal powder to thin metal wires due to higher precision, volume deposition and cost-benefit. While the industry world-over is on a slow-mo on this, L&T has started using wirefeed 3D Printing on real life defence applications,” says Mr J D Patil, Whole-time Director and Sr EVP for Defence & Smart Technologies at L&T.
This is a crucial element for a host of defence solutions and cutting-edge technologies that L&T Defence has either developed or is developing by leveraging digitalisation, Industry 4.0 and augmented reality / virtual reality.
“These days, full-fledge warfare is a remote possibility. Hence, every country looks for the decisive edge for targeted precision response, should there be an infringement on its territorial integrity. Here’s where the need for digital transformation leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Analytics and Predictive Management of contemporary warfare comes in and L&T is ready to serve that need,” he adds.
Warfare is emerging to be dominated by unmanned as well as stand-off capabilities. L&T Defence has developed AI-based image fusion for surveillance, saboteur, and IoT based health monitoring of weapon systems, warships, etc.
At the DefExpo in Lucknow, prototypes or simulations of many of these will be on display at the 400 sq m L&T stall and 250 sq m outdoor display. It will include unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned battle tanks and autonomous ground vehicles, and autonomous underwater vehicles.
“Name any defence solution requirement and L&T is capable of designing and manufacturing it here in India. We are fully equipped to build anti-submarine warfare, surface to surface warfare and air defence warfare solutions for any country cleared by the Government of India (GoI),” Mr Patil says beaming with confidence. “L&T, in fact, is the only company which has truly demonstrated so many make in India examples in these domains.”
No wonder, L&T has already exported defence products such as weapon systems, engineering systems, control systems as well as missile subsystems to 11 countries that are on India’s green country list. And know what, the importers include three first world countries!
L&T Defence has reached this height in less than 15 years. It was in 2001 that GoI opened up defence production to private sector and granted manufacturing licences in 2002. The orders started flowing in from 2005. Since then, L&T Defence has been growing steadily in terms of manufacturing capability and revenue. In the last five years it has grown 2.5-3 times. The 40-acre ASC at Hazira, commissioned last year, is its fifth dedicated defence production unit.
“Modi-I and Modi-II government has cleared defence requirements worth about Rs 4 lakh crore, which are to be bought from Indian companies. With the exception of aero platforms programs (fighters, helicopters), L&T has the capability to participate in most large programs. Although the tenders are yet to come, L&T Defence’s future growth is secured,” Mr Patil explains.
On top of this, the Defence Minister has set a target of turning India’s defence manufacturing into a USD 26 billion per year industry by 2025, including exports of USD 5 billion. GoI has cleared defence exports worth Rs 10,745-cr in FY18 and Rs 6,750-cr till date in the FY19.
According to Mr Patil, the target set by GoI is very much achievable as defence exports have been growing over the years and L&T Defence plays a key role in this. “In 2003, India’s defence exports were worth Rs 380-cr, by 2010 it was nearly Rs 1,000-cr. Exports shrank by 2012-13 to below Rs 500-cr and have grown by around 20 times in FY19. Now, riding on the success, GoI’s target is even more aggressive with action orientation.”
DefExpo, a biennial event hosted by GoI, is a platform for the Indian defence industry to showcase to the world what India is capable of. In the last DefExpo, 45-50 delegations from several countries had turned up. This time, the number is even higher.
L&T Defence and its siblings like L&T-NxT, L&T Valves, L&T Construction, and the L&T-MBDA JV view this as an opportunity to showcase their offerings for the defence sector. “We do not go to DefExpo to ink business deals but for positioning for the future, showcase our cutting-edge offerings and diligently pursue the leads later,” Mr Patil says with a smile hanging from the corner of his lips.