Kalyani Group artillery to be featured.
Army chief General V K Singh’s leaked letter to defence minister A K Antony, which flagged the country’s lack of defence preparedness, casts a shadow over Defexpo India 2012, which kicks off in New Delhi tomorrow. However, the silver linings in the four-day event would be the impressive presence of several Indian private companies and newcomers in developing complex weaponry, with capabilities the defence ministry (MoD) can no longer ignore.
Among the most visible would be the Pune-headquartered Kalyani Group, which would emphatically project its ambition to develop artillery systems for the Indian Army. With foreign artillery procurement stalled for two decades, Baba Kalyani — who has shaped his flagship company, Bharat Forge, into the world’s largest forgings manufacturer — has committed the finance, the manpower and the strategic mind space he believes would make the Kalyani Group a full-spectrum developer of artillery systems.
Kalyani intends to start by building a 155 mm, 52-calibre towed howitzer, which the army desperately wants. Several years of user trials of foreign guns have only resulted in vendors being rejected, blacklisted, or withdrawn from the contest. Kalyani is now boldly offering an Indian alternative.
“I will offer to the Indian Army a fully developed artillery gun system, integrating all the command and control elements, before 2015,” he asserts.
To this end, the Kalyani Group has imported from Austrian gun manufacturer Maschinenfabrik Liezen (MFL) a service version of its famous 155 mm, 45-calibre, autonomous gun system, which had impressed Indian gunners when they evaluated it in the mid-1980s (though they bought the Bofors gun instead). The Kalyani Group has also bought, knocked down and transported to India an entire operational artillery gun factory from Swiss company RUAG.
Instead of learning the ropes of manufacturing artillery from scratch, Kalyani’s designers in Pune intend to absorb foreign technology, thereby leapfrogging an extended development process. Unlike many Indian private companies, Baba Kalyani is investing his own money into building capabilities. Given Bharat Forge’s hardcore engineering pedigree, he is confident he has the solution.
Says Kalyani: “There are the DRDO ((Defence Research & Development Organisation), the OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) and other excellent organisations that have design talent and capability. What India lacks is the ability to convert designs into manufactured products. This is where the Kalyani Group comes in. Building an artillery gun system is largely about materials, forgings and manufacturing. We have in our group the capability to be a top-class manufacturer of precision products.”
Kalyani Steel would provide the steel and metallurgy. The drives, engine, transmission, etc would be built by Automotive Axles Ltd, the Rs 2,000-crore Kalyani Group company and the largest manufacturer of axles in the region.
Alongside the engineering bravado, there is realism, too, about the Kalyani Group’s inexperience in creating the sophisticated software that underpins the gun control, fire correction and command and control systems, about 50 per cent of the overall gun system.
“Our strategy is to collaborate with entities that already have capabilities in electronics and guidance. (For this) we are in constant dialogue with the DRDO and the MoD. But we are confident about the precision engineering needed for the mechanical parts of the gun,” says Kalyani.
The only “missing link”, as Kalyani puts it, is the reliance on the MoD for testing facilities. Guns under development must be periodically tested through live firing. In India, this can only be conducted in cooperation with the Army. The MoD, rattled by the repeated failures of artillery gun procurement programmes, has already initiated two projects in the public sector to develop an artillery gun. The OFB has been asked to construct two 155 mm, 39-calibre guns from the engineering drawings that came with the Bofors gun in the mid-1980s. The OFB would then try to upgrade these into longer-range 155 mm, 45-calibre guns.
Simultaneously, the MoD has sanctioned Rs 150 crore for the DRDO to develop a 155 mm, 52-calibre gun. The DRDO’s Armament R&D Establishment (ARDE), Pune, would soon float a tender for an Indian industrial partner, in which the Kalyani Group intends to bid.
Such is the aggressiveness within the Group that it intends to develop its own gun on a parallel track, even if it becomes an industrial partner to the DRDO for the ARDE’s gun. Rajinder Bhatia, who would head this project, says, “We are willing to compete against ourselves. On one track, we will work with the DRDO, funded by the government. On our own track, we will fund ourselves. Baba Kalyani is willing to commit Rs 100 crore for this.”