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Tuesday 24 December 2019

MoD invites high-tech start-ups to meet defence equipment challenges

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Dec 19

At the fifth annual Army Technology Seminar (ARTECH 2019) in Delhi on Monday, the army invited ten start-up innovators to describe game-changing, high-technology products that the military could use.

One by one, they described their products: a humanoid robot that mimicked the actions of a human controller in a holographic suit; a spray-on, titanium nano-coating that renders an area bacteria-free and fungal-free; a thermal jacket made of fabric infused with graphene ink that generates heat on application of electric power, creating a warm micro-environment for the wearer to cope with extreme cold; and an encrypted Block Chain communications technology with multiple applications, such as Block Vote – an application that lets soldiers on the border exercise their ballot in secret.

Urging young innovators to develop products for the military, army chief General Bipin Rawat released a “Compendium of Problem Definition Statements”, in which the army listed out its specific technology challenges for which it sought innovative indigenous solutions from the industry and academia.

The army’s deputy chief, Lieutenant General SS Hasabnis, underscored the success of four problem compendia released in previous ARTECHs, stating that “136 of our over 150 problem statements issued over the last three years have been responded to by academia and industry.”

Alongside this, the 15 challenges the army has put out under the “Innovations for Defence Excellence” (iDEX) scheme have received “an overwhelming 164 responses”, said Hasabnis.

Forty-four winners of these challenges are presently being provided with funding for developing the innovative technologies they have proposed.

Currently, multiple channels exist for industry and academia to offer innovative solutions to meet the army’s requirements: The “Make-2” procurement category in which industry or individuals can make suo moto proposals to the army; in response to “Innovations for Defence Excellence” (iDEX) challenges; proposals under the “Technology Development” head’ or as “Army Technology Board” projects.

“I’m honoured to announce that 32 ‘Make 2’ projects, 16 ‘Technology Development’ projects and 13 ‘Army Technology Board’ projects have been initiated to take these solutions offered to fruition”, said Hasabnis.

Last month, Secretary (Defence Production) Subhash Chandra had stated in Delhi that the defence ministry aims to fund 250 startups and achieve 50 tangible innovations in the next five years. Towards this, the ministry is seeking the sanction of Rs 500 crore. 

The defence ministry’s procurement chief, Apurva Chandra, has stated he is heading a sub-committee that is trying to weave together these multiple innovation strands into an integrated high-technology development and procurement process in the new Defence Procurement Procedure of 2020 that the ministry hopes to release by March.

On Monday, the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, K Vijay Raghavan, also urged that these technology initiatives be integrated with procurement policy quickly.

However, underscoring the continuing delay in translating an approved prototype into a commercially manufactured product, Hasabnis revealed that “Acceptance of Necessity” (AoN) – a preliminary step of the procurement process – has been granted for only seven of the “Make 2” projects. That suggests that it would still be years before these products actually enter service.

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