Emerging Entrepreneurs

Arming the Navy with hi-tech solutions

K Giriprakash | Updated on November 07, 2018 Published on November 16, 2015

LSS Nrendra (left), Director, Operations, dB Systems, and Kuriyedath Ramesh, Director, Technical SOMASHEKAR GRN

dB Systems is perhaps the first start-up to foray into the defence sector

Bengaluru-based dB Systems has ventured into an area where not many have — the hi-tech world of defence systems. Started by two former Indian Navy officers, dB Systems is probably the first start-up in the defence space in India. That does not deter it from setting its sights high in the defence technology solutions space.

The forerunner to dB Systems was started by Kuriyedath Ramesh, who resigned as a Commander in the Indian Navy in 2011 to develop a software called Command Management System (CMS) and offer technology solutions to the Navy. His buddy, LSS Narendra, also a Commander in the Navy, joined him a year later after quitting the Navy. Thus was born dB Systems.

Why did the two, both 47, plunge into the business?

“If we had remained in the Navy, we would have moved on to other administrative and higher management roles,” says Ramesh, adding, “most of the defence officers get into non-core areas as they do not have any other avenues when they retire.”

“The challenge was to set up a start-up in the defence sector which was unheard of and we decided to give it a try,” says Ramesh, who has a management qualification from IIM Bangalore.

Big deals

The initial days were tough because the big domestic companies such as Bharat Electronics Ltd, Tata Power Strategic Electronics Divison (TPSED) and L&T had to be convinced that dB Systems could do work for them. They have now crossed that stage and are convinced about the reliability of the start-up in providing technology solutions for the Navy.

The CMS is the heart of a warship and integrates the ship’s sensors such as radars, sonars, electronic warfare systems, missiles and torpedoes. Without the CMS, those manning the warships will not be able to launch any missiles or protect themselves when attacked.

It certainly helped that Ramesh was involved in the core team set up by the Indian Navy to develop a CMS. Though it could have been imported, given that it is critical to the country’s security, the Navy decided to develop a CMS of its own more than two decades ago. “Most of your tactics like the way you fight a war are something you don’t want your enemies to know. Hence, it was important for the Navy to build it on its own,” Ramesh points out.

But then came the question of whether it should be built from scratch or under a joint venture. Building it from scratch would have taken a long time and hence the joint venture route was resorted to. An entity consisting of naval officers and DRDO engineers entered into joint development with a European CMS vendor and after working on the project for a decade, the first CMS was built in the early 1980s. “It wasn’t easy because there were a lot of technology challenges, but we managed to overcome them and now have built several of them,” says Ramesh.

The initial cost of building the CMS was ₹50-₹75 crore but as many of them had to be built — with each warship requiring one — the cost has come down significantly. The CMS consists of a large number of hardware and software components. The core hardware components are processor cards and associated communication interfaces such as Ethernet and serial interfaces. The software components are mostly custom-built for the CMS which, with its built-in algorithms, does a lot of critical work for the warships.

“Suppose there are several warships around you, you need to know which are the friendly ones and which are not; which enemy ship will strike at you first and which will strike you later. For example, if there are submarines pursuing you, you need to know which one will attack you first. Also, the one that will strike in, say, five seconds and the one that will strike in 10 seconds,” elaborates Narendra. The CMS helps the captain of the warship find answers to these questions.

Team strength

dB Systems has the capability to design a complete CMS. Narendra says that it has a fully-built CMS in its repository. The three-year-old company has 25 engineers on its rolls, almost all of them engaged in developing the software, with a couple specialised in hardware. dB Systems has commercially sold modules and sub-systems of the CMS to Tier-1 aggregators for supply to the Navy. Narendra declined to elaborate for reasons of security and confidentiality.

Bharat Electronics and TPSED are the players currently contracted to sell CMS to the Navy. So, what prevents other ex-Navy officers from getting into the same business? According to the two Navy veterans, entry barriers are quite high. “What is needed is a combination of technical knowledge, software development experience, project management expertise and system integration capabilities,” says Narendra.

The market is huge. The Navy is building about 100-150 warships, with five to six of them being built every year. The challenge ahead for Ramesh and Narendra is the scale. It is something that they are grappling with and hope to overcome it with some funding.

Challenge ahead

At the next level, they will start dealing directly with the Navy. The challenge is not just of investment — which is not much — but one of establishing the company’s credentials with the Navy. “It’s a long drawn-out process and can take a minimum of three years to get into a supplier relationship with the defence,” signs off Narendra.

Published on November 16, 2015
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