As a leading indigenous defence company, Larsen & Toubro is looking to tap its expertise developed over four decades, especially for land and sea systems. JD Patil, Member of Executive Committee of Management and Advisor (Defence & Smart Technologies) to CEO & MD, L&T, spoke to Business Line on his company’s emergence as the L1 (lowest bidder) for the Indian Air Force contract for about 240 air defence gun systems, as also its new submarine, unmanned systems, and other products. Excerpts from the interview:
What can we expect from L&T at the upcoming Defexpo 2022 in Gandhinagar from October 18-20?
We will have a model of our in-house designed and developed submarine at the Defexpo. We will have varieties of warships we have built. We will obviously have some of the tank programmes, various artillery systems, bridging systems, and major systems that we do... the focus will also be on new technologies, unmanned segments. Some of our iconic programmes will find presence in the PM's Hall; and Gujarat is very proud of our [K-9] Vajra [guns]. They will be displayed as the army's Vajra since we have delivered them to the Indian army.
What is the update on the light tanks that L&T was developing in collaboration with the DRDO?
The development is on at full speed... this is completely ab initio, and not taking Vajra design... except for engine and transmission, everything can be done here. Since the equipment was done here, not as TOT [transfer of technology], a lot of the equipment, running gear, suspension was built to specs. The design is joint effort (DRDO).. We are confident that the light tank will roll out on test tracks by the middle of next year.
Will you be delivering any other product to the Defence Ministry?
An Air Force programme we addressed is needed by the army, too — namely, the air defence gun. We have just proven against international competition... our indigenous air defence system and a full-fledged air defence system from search radar to track radar to fire controls to command control to electro-optics built-in with the gun. The complete weapon systems. This has come out successfully from the trials and qualified; after the price bidwe are L1. Contract is yet to happen... about 240 guns, if I'm not wrong, is for the Air Force. The army requires identical guns... They are buying in two phases. So the first phase is slightly larger. The second phase will be much larger. RFP [request for proposal] was issued two days back (October 8). There is RFI [request for information] stage for mounted guns. The towed guns are yet to be ordered. We qualified on the towed guns with a sizeable indigenous content.. Whole lot of the programmes are in a limbo, that way. It was won in price by Israelis but not yet ordered...
Tell us about the business side of L&T’s defence initiatives.
I'm not including defence construction because L&T, as a group, does multiple activities across defence sector. There is business for us. of about ₹4,000 crore per year. We possibly could do much more because we have invested in seven manufacturing facilities and the investments originally were ₹8,000 crore in defence. There is no (other) Indian corporate which comes to one-tenth of it. We have enormous capacity which is quite underutilised, and this is where more and more opportunities are coming in the way of private sector entities. Couple of years back this was just not happening.... Many of our programmes will pick up volumes. Export is small, about ₹300-400 crore. We export to 12 countries.
As an industry partner, what's your take on the draft policy on defence production and export?
The export promotion and production are linked to that. I It's a WIP [work in progress] because consultations with industry have happened about eight ten months back. It's in the approval phase beyond the consultations. And what we are privy to in the industry is that the empowered group of secretaries had cleared it.