BEL's New Chairman, Anil Kumar spoke exclusively to Defenseworld.net. He spoke extensively on the current projects BEL is involved in.
DW : From a financial perspective, how well is BEL doing this year?
Anil Kumar: The Company’s has clocked a turnover of Rs.3,458 crore at the end of Quarter 3, registering a growth of 7 per cent as compared with last year. The order book as of end December is Rs. 26,703 as compared to Rs. 23,600 in the beginning of FY 2012. Having received orders worth Rs. 6,000 crore in the first 3 Quarters, we are expecting an inflow of another Rs. 4,000 crore orders in the next 3 months. BEL is a multi-product, multi-technology, multi-Unit conglomerate with each of the Units/SBUs dealing with specific business segment(s). The major systems/products dispatched till end of Q3 are in the segments of Communication, Radar, Electronic Warfare, Weapon Systems, Electro Optics, Tank Electronics and Fire Control Systems. Some of the non-defence projects like National Population Register and Socio Economic Caste Census, too, have contributed to BEL’s overall performance. The Ministry of Rural Development placed an order for 6 lakh Tablet PCs to carry out the Socio Economic Caste Census and BEL rose to the challenge supplying the required numbers in record time. With some major projects lined up for Q4, the Company is confident of surpassing last year’s turnover of Rs.5,530 crore.
DW : Can you name a few projects BEL scientists are currently working on?
Anil Kumar: Some of the ongoing R&D activities in BEL are in areas such as Software Defined Radios, High Capacity Radio Relays, Tactical Communication System, Phased Array Radars, Missile Systems, Doppler Weather Radars, Eye Safe Lasers & Laser Target Designators, Un-cooled & Cooled Thermal Imagers, Fire Control Systems, Network Centric Warfare & C4I Command Control Systems, New Generation Electronic Warfare & Avionics technologies and New Generation Sonars. Some of the R&D projects which are under development or in advanced stages of completion include Weapon Locating Radar, Aslesha, Bharani, Doppler Weather Radar, Software Defined Radio, Routers, Encryptors, 100W HF Radio for BSS, VHF Radio for Coastal Surveillance, Electro Optic Fire Control Systems, Coastal Surveillance System, Towed Array Sonar, Track & Wheel Integrated EW System for Army, Integrated ESM and ECM systems for Navy, Missile Warning Systems for Air Force, Combat Management System for various ships, Akash for Army, L70 Gun Upgrade, Eye Safe LRF Modules, Multi Function HHTI, High Repetition LRF for Air Defence, NBC Recce Vehicle and Sighting & Fire Control Systems.
DW : Could you give us an overview on the tactical radio communications programmes that BEL is currently involved in?
Anil Kumar: We are developing our own Software Defined Radio (SDR) for all the 3 Services; the radio will have around 16 variants. We expect the SDR to be available for trials by June 2012. SDRs can communicate with legacy radios existing with the armed forces. Since the army uses BEL radios they can use these sets with the same encryption. BEL has also developed suitable interfaces for the existing HF radio sets, which enable secure communication between these radios.
DW : Any new programmes that are being planned in the radar sphere?
Anil Kumar: Weapon Locating Radar (WLR) is one project which we are quite satisfied with. This project was jointly developed by BEL and Electronics Research and Development Establishment (LRDE), a DRDO lab. The indigenously developed WLR has met all the user requirements. We are also looking at a smaller and more compact version of this radar for mountainous terrains. Besides WLR, we have the ‘Bharani’ 2D radar for the Indian Army and ‘Aslesha’ 3D Radar for the Indian Air Force (IAF). These radars are portable and are meant for use in mountainous regions. BEL is working on long-range surveillance radars for all the 3 services for use on coast, ship, mountains, etc.
DW : Can you elaborate on BEL’s current and future sonar programmes?
Anil Kumar: BEL has already developed indigenously with the DRDO many surface and submarine sonars and we’re currently working on Advanced New Generation Sonars for surface ships and submarines to cater to a wide variety of platforms. New sonar programmes include Towed Array Sonars for ships and submarines and High Frequency Sonars for various applications.
DW : What kind of defence software is BEL currently working on?
Anil Kumar: BEL is working on software for Coastal Surveillance System, Network Management System and various C4I programmes.
DW : What will be your main focus in the defence area going forward?
Anil Kumar: A major share of our turnover in the next 2 years will be come from Weapon Systems, Radars, Fire Control Systems, Network Centric Systems, Communication Systems, Electronic Warfare, Surveillance Systems, Tank Electronics and Smart Cards. The Company has also initiated diversification activities in the areas of Nuclear Power Instrumentation, solar energy, Airborne Radars, etc.
DW : BEL and ISRO have been jointly working on the Satellite Electronics Payload (Transponders). What is the status of this programme?
Anil Kumar: BEL is currently manufacturing the flight model of C-band MMIC-based receiver for GSAT series. BEL has had a long association with ISRO in various programmes and has, over the years, established excellent facilities and competencies in manufacturing, testing and quality assurance of complex electronic submodules and integration of systems for space applications. BEL has manufactured for Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, and ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), Bangalore, several sub modules like preamplifiers, remote units, multichannel signal conditioners, telecommand receivers, magnetic aspect sensors, beacon receivers, tracking receivers, TWTs, filters, antenna position control system for the PSLV & GSLV. C-Band radar and Doppler Weather Radar stand out as partnership models of ISRO & BEL.
DW : In 2007, BEL expressed interest in foraying into Nuclear Power Instrumentation. Can you please update us on the progress in this sector?
Anil Kumar: The Kotdwara Unit of BEL is attempting to make an entry into the nuclear business by taking up a developmental project for Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). BEL is also participating in a tender worth Rs 800 crore by NPCIL for Control Centre & Instrumentation Product (C&I) for upcoming 4 nuclear power plants. Currently, technical evaluation is under progress. Other upcoming opportunities (>100 crore) in C&I are also being addressed by BEL to gain a foothold in the nuclear business.
DW : What will be BEL’s areas of business interest in the MMRCA deal? What role do you foresee for BEL in the project?
Anil Kumar: As per the provisions of RFP, the vendor has to undertake offset contracts to a minimum of 50 per cent of the value of foreign exchange component of the commercial proposal. The total value of offset contracts in the area of BEL’s interest (Electronic Warfare, Avionics and Radar) is expected to be around US $800 million. BEL has initiated discussions with vendors to secure a significant part of the above opportunity and have signed MoUs with OEMs and their major suppliers.
DW : Does BEL have any plans to enter into any new Joint Venture?
Anil Kumar: The amendments in DPP have given an opportunity to BEL to form JVs with leading global defence players and acquire required critical technologies. The above approach will also put BEL in a position, wherein it can source state-of-the-art subsystems / products from such Joint Ventures and play the role of a system integrator for large strategic defence systems. We are very actively pursuing a JV with Thales, France, for the manufacture of civilian and select defence radars. This JV is in advanced stage of finalisation. Even though we will continue to focus on development of new technologies through in-house R&D, we will pursue JVs in specific areas where we do not have the technology. We are in talks with Rafael for establishing a Joint Venture in the field of seekers and missile electronics. We are also in the process of identifying a third partner who can add value to JVC and who is acceptable to both companies. BEL is also discussing with BHEL for setting up a JVC for Solar PV manufacturing. The business plan for setting up of the JVC has been finalised and both the companies are in the process of obtaining Board approvals.
DW : How do the new Government guidelines on defence PSUs, private sectors impact BEL?
Anil Kumar: The Indian market scenario for Defence and Civilian Electronic products / systems is rapidly changing. With the opening of the Defence Electronics market to private participation the competition is likely to intensify. In this scenario, BEL is taking proactive steps to protect and further consolidate its leadership position in the Indian Defence market while at the same time accelerate the efforts to get into new business areas. BEL is looking for new growth opportunities in areas aligned with BEL’s core strengths either through Organic growth in existing/ new areas or Inorganic growth through Joint Ventures / Acquisitions and such other methods. As per the new production policy, preference will be given to indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment if it can be developed within time lines required by Defence Forces. Also all equipment/weapon systems/platforms required as per LTIPP will be and large be developed/integrated/made within the country. To take advantage of these policy decisions BEL has renewed its thrust on indigenous development either through in-house efforts or in collaboration with DRDO/academic institutions. BEL has made significant progress in the development of major systems listed in LTIPP like CCS, NCO for Navy, BMS, EW Track and wheeled program, etc. BEL is also exploring possibilities of joint ventures to take advantage of Buy and Make Indian category of Defence purchases. BEL has been increasingly outsourcing its requirements to private industry. At present about 30% of our requirement is outsourced to the private sector. We are also partnering with private players for development programmes in technology areas. BEL has been outsourcing a large chunk of its hardware and software requirements, for projects like Akash, WLR, CAR, etc.
DW : What does BEL plan on showcasing at DEFEXPO 2012?
Anil Kumar: BEL will showcase its R&D might at DEFEXPO 2012 by displaying its latest range of products and systems, developed in-house. The main highlight of BEL’s display will be Network Centric Warfare (NCW) systems developed indigenously for the Indian defence forces. NCW solutions for the Indian Navy will include Combat Management System, which automates tactical data from the ship’s sensors to provide decision support to the ship’s Command; Coastal Surveillance System, an all-weather 24x7 surveillance system developed for safeguarding the nation’s coastline by networking various sensors such as radars, day & night electro-optical equipment, Automatic Identification System and meteorological equipment; and Advanced Composite Communication System, an IP-based New-Generation voice, data and video integrated system. The software for all these solutions, too, have been developed in-house. BEL’s display will also include key elements developed for use in various C4I systems catering to all the 3 Services — like computing elements in various forms, right from wrist-wearable computers, hand-held computers and Tablet PC to rugged laptop; communication equipment such as Software Defined Radio with different variants, HF Radios and Radio Relays, besides encryptors such as Terminal End Secrecy Device (TESD), IP encryptor and Bulk Encryptor. Research and Development has been BEL’s forte. The Company is laying increased thrust on development of new technology modules which will be on show at the exhibition: Microwave Power Modules and TR Modules for use in radars, MEMs-based products for use in sonars, microwave components used in air-borne EW systems and an Integrated Radio and Line Modem (IRLM) used in missile systems. The key elements for underwater solutions which will be on show will be transducers for ships and submarines. BEL will highlight its contributions to the Electronic Warfare and Avionics segment with an impressive display of the Missile Approach Warning Systems, Convoy Jammers, Flight Control Computer and other cockpit modules. Also on display will be the latest range of laser products, night vision products and batteries. BEL maintains technological leadership by virtue of its in-house R&D and in association with DRDO, other national research and development agencies and academic institutes. To turn the spotlight on BEL’s joint development programmes with DRDO, BEL will showcase systems like Bharani Radar, Weapon Locating Radar, New-Generation Sonar system and multi-function Hand Held Thermal Imager.