Firing on all barrels, Bengaluru offers best shot at local defence manufacture

Gunjan Krishna | Updated on February 03, 2021

The roar above Bengaluru is a thunderous announcement that Asia’s biggest aerospace exhibition is on at the only Indian city to find a spot in the top 10 aerospace cities’ list compiled by fDi Intelligence (an offering from Financial Times).

Rightly, too, as Karnataka contributes to more than 65 per cent of India’s aerospace-related exports. Also, two-thirds of India’s aircraft and helicopter manufacturing for defence services happens in the State. Additionally, the State also offers strong ancillary industry support to drive innovation across the aerospace and defence value chain. For instance, Bengaluru is not only the largest chip design hub in India but also produces 60 per cent of country’s machine tools.

Given all this and the track record in aerospace and defence, Karnataka can play an important role in the Government of India’s vision of achieving self-reliance. Its inclusion in the defence corridors will not only invigorate its large defence supplier base for indigenisation, but also help garner more investments from global manufacturers.

Tech powerhouse

The case for Karnataka is further strengthened because of the emerging contours of future warfare and technologies that are required to power them. Big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality, quantum computing and quantum cryptography are increasingly becoming integral to defence manufacturing and Karnataka is a leader in these technologies.

The presence of world-class research institutions, universities, centres for excellence and rich talent pool ensure that Karnataka not only keeps pace with the latest global research and developments but also drives innovation.

This is the raison d’etre that 35 per cent of world’s 1,500 global in-house centres are located in Bengaluru alone and the State accounts for the highest number of patents filed in the country. And, Bengaluru, along with other upcoming tech and research and development hubs such as Mysuru, Chitradurga, Tumkuru and Dharwad, have ensured that Karnataka retains its No 1 position in NITI Aayog’s Innovation Index. No wonder a recent research by London & Partners, the promotional agency for London, puts Bengaluru as the fastest-growing mature tech hub ahead of Silicon Valley and the British capital.

Gone are the days when experts made defence procurement plans for 30-40 years. With the fast-changing technology landscape and the advent of additive manufacturing, the shelf life of any procurement is limited at best to 10-15 years.

Additive manufacturing technology is all set to revolutionise the defence industry by bringing in design flexibility, localised manufacturing and reduced production cost for tools and components. Karnataka has taken a number of initiatives to promote additive manufacturing by setting up 3D printing clusters and sponsoring start-ups.

For instance, through its flagship programme ‘Start-up Karnataka’, the State accorded grants to ‘Deltasys E-Forming’, a Belgaum based start-up, to develop large-format hybrid composite 3D printers.

The State also partnered Dassault Systemes, a French software provider, for 3D product design and advanced manufacturing, to set-up four 3D experience innovation centres in Raichur, Bellary, Bidar and Yadgir to train and create skilled workforce in the domains of additive manufacturing and mechatronics for key sectors such as aerospace and defence. As a result, not only Bengaluru, but other major cities in the State have emerged as additive manufacturing hubs.

More than 30 per cent of India’s start-ups are based in Karnataka making the State the third highest start-up hub globally. Many of these start-ups are working on cutting-edge technologies such as advanced materials, drones/UAV, specialised imaging, smart automation, blockchain and 3D printing.

NoPo Nanotechnologies Ltd, Hyperverge, Pixxel, NBIL (Next Big Innovation Labs), etc., are some of the start-ups that have created novel products and solutions in these new-age focus areas.

The lofty goal of the Centre to turn the country into a global manufacturing hub for weapons and defence platforms can be more easily achieved by starting from a place of strength. Karnataka’s ecosystem provides such strength and attractiveness to both domestic industry and FDI and has the potential to take the industry to the next level. The Central governmen can either look at extending the Southern Defence Corridor from Coimbatore to include Bengaluru via Mysuru and Chamrajnagar or plan defence clusters along with the State government around Bengaluru just as was done around Paris and Los Angeles airports.

Bengaluru’s ability to attract the best to its ecosystem and thereby become a force multiplier are good enough reasons to consider it to be turned into a strong base to further nurture our Atmanirbharta in the defence sector.

The writer is Commissioner for Industrial Development and Director, Department of Industries & Commerce, Government of Karnataka.

Published on February 03, 2021

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