Forging Futuristic Indian Solutions

By Editor 28-Feb-2019

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Spirit of Innovation has been the driving force behind the Kalyani Group, an Indian multi-national conglomerate with high technology, engineering and manufacturing capability across various critical sectors. They are in the forefront globalizing India, contributing a great deal in making “Made in India” a global high tech brand in the manufacturing industry. Baba Kalyani, Chairman of the Group and CMD of the group’s flagship Bharat Forge, speaks to AeroMag on the group’s transition from being a global leader in metal forming, forging, machining and metallurgy to creating the know-how and know-why of advanced weapon systems and futuristic artillery platforms, and becoming one of the leading private sector entities in India to be certified by Indian Ministry of Defence and Israel MOD for launch of ‘SECRET’ security classified programs. Excerpts from the interview:

How has your profile changed from being the largest forging company in the world to being one of the top three artillery gun manufacturers in international reckoning? The transition from being a supplier of critical components for defence industry to becoming a leading player in aerospace and defence industry in India, making it in India for the world with strategic partnership with global OEMs in Israel, Russia and Sweden...

Defence and aerospace are a natural progression for us. These are areas where we can leverage our existing capabilities in metal forming, forging, machining and metallurgy. There is tremendous potential here, especially with the product profile we have developed over the last few years. My Group has always been at the forefront of ‘Make in India’ and is committed towards establishing a vibrant defence industrial base in the country. In the past few years, we have invested sizeable resources to develop a wide range of products and technological capabilities to manufacture various critical items of defence systems, equipment and components; wherein we are targeting import substitution across all verticals through large scale indigenization. Continuous efforts in this sector have resulted in indigenously designed, developed and manufactured products. Our success in the field of Artillery and Land Systems is also an outcome of these efforts.

With India’s Defence Acquisition Council approving procurement of your 155mm/52 calibre Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS), what are its unique features and what’s the timeline for induction and production schedule?

ATAGS is a future battlefield solution. The performance of the system in terms of range, accuracy and mobility is unmatched. The Kalyani variant of ATAGS has created a new world record during firing at Pokhran. There are very few 155mm/52 cal Artillery gun systems in the world and ATAGS is far ahead than most of them performance wise. It is also extremely cost competitive than most of the solutions available in the world today. Most importantly, the complete ordnance has been ‘Made in India’ by my group. World over, all the successful OEMs make their own ordnance. As a matter of fact, unless the ordnance of a gun is made in the country, you can never claim a gun to be truly ‘Made in India’. The ordnance has successfully undergone proof firings in PXE Balasore at extreme high pressure close to 568MPa which is the highest pressure recorded for artillery gun systems in the world. Other unique features include zero backlash electrical drives (hydro-electric gun system), fully-automatic Ammunition Handling System (AHS), Advanced Electronic Steer by Wire system to provide best mobility, etc.

Also, the involvement of private industry by the DRDO at system level is a paradigm shift and has resulted in realising this state of the art weapon platform in the fastest time frame. More such initiatives will help realise the vision of self-reliance, establish a vibrant defence industrial base in the country and will give Impetus to Make in India. Most significant aspect of ATAGS development work is that it has resulted in bringing in “KNOW-HOW” and “KNOW-WHY” of Most Advanced Artillery Gun Systems in India. This I believe, is the essence of “Make in India”, creating the know-how and know-why of advanced weapon systems in the country and thus make the country self-reliant.

The DAC approved procurement will go through its procurement cycle and it is expected that the orders will be placed after the trials. The production schedule will be as per customer’s requirement. From our side, we can produce 100 guns per year which can be further scaled up to 150 guns per year.

Among the five gun platforms that you showcased at the last DEFEXPO in Chennai, the so called futuristic Ultra-Light Howitzer artillery gun – Advanced Hybrid Recoil that can be lifted by helicopter, made in titanium and steel, grabbed much attention. What are the highlights on these indigenous product lines?

Our approach in development of Future Artillery Platforms has been application based and not program based. We are not developing guns against a particular program. But, during our interactions with the Army, we understand what their challenges are in operating at higher altitudes, rough terrains, etc. and then design a product that attempts to resolve all those issues. We are thus developing products with higher strength yet lighter in weight, reduced recoil forces enhancing stability, optimal structure and several such. Again, such an approach is possible only because we now have complete “know-how” and “know-why” of Artillery Systems within the organization, capable of offering “solutions” to our customer, Indian Army/MoD.

Mountain Artillery Gun (MArG) is a 155 mm / 39 caliber long-range field Ultra-Light Howitzer (ULH) in towed version. MArG comes in two variants - Steel and Titanium. The steel version weighs about 6.8 tons and the Titanium version weighs less than 5 tons. This breakthrough has been achieved through innovative design and use of lightweight, high strength alloys for many sub-assemblies. MArG can be towed and is able to travel on black top or cross-country terrain at speed up to 60 km/h and 24 km/h respectively. It can be transported by existing railway or current tactical air transport. The semi-automatic Breech operating system & projectile loading system enables the gun to fire at a high rate of fire and to minimize human fatigue. MArG can fire complete family of in service ammunition including standard NATO ammunitions along with in service charge system, including Bi-Modular charge system (BMCS). It is capable of firing 24.7 km range and with assisted ammunition it can go 30Kms. It is designed for all terrain conditions, particularly mountainous region, where gun towing is very difficult. Being lightweight, it can be transported with helicopters and can easily be deployed in hilly areas. A third variant is also underway – Super ULH, which incorporates the hybrid recoil technology which further brings down the weight of the gun to 3.2 tons.

Could you tell us more on your technological, strategic partnership and joint ventures with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Elbit System?

We are working on a number of joint ventures and strategic partnerships with global OEMs in order to bring in technology and undertake joint production and manufacturing in India, as part of our commitment to ‘Make in India’. We have two joint ventures, BF Elbit Advanced Systems with Elbit (Israel) for Artillery and Mortar systems and Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems with Rafael (Israel) for Missile and Air Defence technology, BMP upgrade and Advanced Armour solutions.  Both the JVs are progressing well. In fact, KRAS is one of the fastest growing JVs today. With a state of the art manufacturing facility at Hyderabad spread across an area of 24,000 sq. ft, it is one of the leading private sector entities to be certified by Indian MOD and Israel MOD for launch of ‘SECRET’ security classified programs. While it currently awaits the SPIKE ATGM order (for which this facility was initially designed and established), it has successfully executed the production and integration of New Generation of Precision Weapon Systems (NGPGM) to be delivered to Indian Air force, thus achieving a turnover of INR 100 Cr plus in its very first year of operation. KRAS will soon be establishing the MRSAM mid-section electronics line for manufacturing and testing, with indigenous sourcing. In the pipeline are plans to offer product support solution to Indian Defence Services by establishing an MRO for Missile systems supplied to Indian Air force and Indian Navy; potential cooperation with BDL for export market; leveraging the facility for manufacturing and testing of IR seeker which can also be utilized by DRDO and DPSUs. Overall, the JV potential is unfolding well and is in tune with the vision of its stake holders towards ‘Make in India’.

How about the small jet engine project, engines for UAVs and drones as well as heavy thrust engines for helicopters?

In line with our passion to develop indigenised solution, KCTI-120 is an ab-initio engine and design and development started as a technology demonstrator. This engine has advancements in compressor, combustionand turbine stage. KCTI-120 can find applications in UAVs, short range subsonic missiles, light to ultra-light manned planes, etc.  This is a learning curve for us. We sent our engineers to Germany and the US to study before embarking on our own programme.

How would you assess the role of Indian private sector players like you in making India a global manufacturing hub – for instance, being a part of Boeing’s global supply chain for titanium flap track forgings for 737 series aircraft, and the like?

India is today the sixth largest economy in the world. The government estimates that we will be a 10 Trillion economy in the next 11-12 years and the third largest economy by size. I expect India to have a thriving manufacturing sector of about 1.5-2.0 Trillion USD, contributing 15-20% of our GDP which is 4-5 times of the current size of the sector. I am confident that a majority of this additional manufacturing value-add would come from the private industry from sectors like Electronics, Defence, Aerospace, Railways, Construction, Automotive among others. Private companies with its pool of management, scientific and technological skills, product innovation, technology upgradation, quality control, finance and human resource management, are best poised to lead India’s journey to become a global manufacturing hub.

What exciting news do we have from your network of R&D Centres – for Defence Electronics, Tactical Systems, and Jet Propulsion Technology?

Innovation and technology have been the cornerstones of Kalyani Group’s strategy. We spend a significant share of profits every year on R&D. Our R&D centre houses 150-200 people, all MTechs and PhD in materials, metallurgy, electronics, 3-D printing, nano-technology, high precision gears, metal injection moulding etc. We have been working on several new technologies and have established world class technology centres and R&D hubs to aid development of advanced systems:

  • Kalyani Centre for Technology & Innovation (2011), Pune
  • Kalyani Centre for Manufacturing Innovation (2016), Pune
  • Kalyani Centre for Tactical Systems & Controls (2015), Hyderabad
  • Kalyani Centre for Jet Propulsion (2015), Bangalore
  • Kalyani Centre for Electric Propulsion (2018), Nuneaton (UK)
  • Kalyani Open Innovation Centre (2019), Israel
  • Kalyani Centre for Microwave Technology (2019), Pune

The Defence Electronics incubation centre, placed at KCTI Pune, has developed ECARS – an autonomous UGV. We are working on seeker technology at our technology centre in Hyderabad. Our seeker is almost ready. It’s a KU band RF seeker. Once we master this technology we can develop derivatives of it. Jet propulsion centre at Bangalore is working on development of KCTI-120 and KCTI-160, which are to be tested further to idle speed and full speed conditions by next month.

Could you give us a sense of the scope of your collaborative ventures with DRDO besides that of land systems?

Our biggest programme with DRDO so far has been ATAGS. We are also working with them on small arms, FSAPDS ammunition, penetrator air bombs and many other programs. We will also work with them on future jet engines.

Moving on to the other major verticals of your businesses, how good are the global and domestic tractions for heavy trucks, commercial vehicles, passenger cars and automotive industrial sector?

For BFL, the year gone by has been the best year on record, with the highest ever revenue and profitability. This was based on strong growth across all geographies on the back of improved end markets and increased customer traction. Our new product pipeline, focused on transmission and driveline components, coupled with the investment in Nellore for setting up the Center for Light Weighting Technology, is expected to be a significant growth driver for the Company. We have adopted multiple measures (light-weighting of components, new product development focused on the entire powertrain, and emission solutions) to leverage emerging prospects arising from the technological upgradation required to meet the emission norm applicable from 2020. More importantly, these initiatives will enable further diversification of the revenue stream, creating resilience during downturns.

How is your export market growth – focussing on the defence and aerospace sector specially?

The export market for defence has shown good traction in the last year. We are executing export orders for Armoured Troop Carriers and various types of ammunition. A few neighbouring countries have also shown interest in our guns. We have received about six foreign delegations, all directed by the Ministry of Defence, in the last year alone.  We are expecting this to generate new export opportunities.

In aerospace, despite the long gestation period, we have been doing well, especially in the export market. We continue to supply components to major OEMs.

Shall we end this with a glance into some of your more exotic offerings – like unmanned underwater vehicles? How big is the scope for such systems?

Yes, it’s a recent development. We are looking at opportunities to expand our naval profile and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles is a step towards it. We have tied up with a technology partner to understand the system and work on it.