Around 25 km away from Hyderabad, a private manufacturer of advanced weapons systems has been operational since August 2017. On Tuesday, it announced the delivery of the first batch of 1000 midsection Medium-Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) to the Indian Armed Forces, an order worth US dollars 100 million
Rudra B Jadeja, who helms the Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems (KRAS), a joint venture between the Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd and Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, points out that the very first product to roll out of the facility was the SPICE-2000 bombs that were used by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to strike terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26, 2019. In a significant order worth $30 million, more than 200 SPICE-2000 bombs have been sent out of this very facility. Of them, 80 per cent were for the Indian forces. In an interview the CEO of KRAS spoke about the journey so far, programs in the pipeline, Atmanirbharta, and goals set for the future.
Here are the excerpts:
You are touted as India’s first private missile production facility. Tell us about the journey thus far.
It has been fantastic though things haven’t gone as planned. The inception of this particular facility began with a very big program called SPIKE-ATGM (anti-tank guided missile). India needed about 8000-plus missiles and we were supposed to manufacture about 200 missiles per month. Even if I make 200 per month, I am making 2,400 per year and it will take five years to make 8000-plus. I was very small, so we invested. Our partner Rafael had already gone six years before us to get things trial-evaluated, tested, commercials open, negotiations done by the government of India.
After the commercials opened, Rafael could not go ahead due to technical issues. So that’s why we (the joint venture) were established. But unfortunately it (the ATGM) had not happened yet. We were raring to go and nothing happened. As we couldn’t keep waiting, we moved on.
That’s how you moved your focus to SPICE-2000 bombs?
So when we understood we can’t keep waiting and watching, we adopted SPICE-2000. We made 200-plus in the interim, hoping the government would take a decision fast. But nothing happened for two to three years. So we thought let the government decide, we will keep charting our trial phase. We survived with the production of this transferred technology from Rafael. Now when that got over, we took up the MRSAM.
What was the advantage of SPICE bombs?
The SPICE is a wonderful weapon system. Only the SPICE-2000 (the big boy) bombs were used in Balakot because we wanted real destruction. There is SPICE-1000 and also SPICE-250 (the small boy). Each one has an electro-optic seeker. What we offer is an intelligent weapons system (with electro-optic seekers) which Indian programs don’t have as of now. This is already a proven technology and inducted in the Indian defence forces for the last few years. This bomb was made on this very premise here.
What are the programs in the pipeline and any timeline that you could share?
This (SPICE-2000s) is already done and because too many are not required there is another program with the IAF that we are working on. That is to offer them SPICE-1000, SPICE 250 (bombs). We are also offering the technology to DRDO. We are selected as a DCPP (development-cum-production partner) of this technology. These programs are currently underway. About the timeline, it works like this. If a missile has to go into a ship, until the ship is ready, there is no need for the missile.
What does delivering the first batch of ‘missile kits’ to Bharat Dynamics Limited mean to KRAS? What is the deadline for delivering the entire batch?
We had announced this 100-million dollar order in 2019 itself. It is one of its kind. Being a new entrant in this domain, we are very proud that our partners are feeling significantly confident about our capabilities. We are supposed to be churning out 1000-plus missile kits in a span of 5 to 6 years. The timeline depends on the system requirement. This is not a commodity I can stock in my store. If missiles come and radars don’t, the missiles go waste. So I will not be able to predict the time. The BDL or DRDO’s Research Centre IMARAT will be able to say what time should be good for deliveries. We are ready.
What is the USP of your MRSAM?
It has a range of more than 70 km. It has the ability of direct hit and its accuracy is so perfect that even a flying aircraft on one or two or two max plus can be picked up and hit directly rather than at proximity distance as such. This is one of the most proven weapon systems with the Israeli defence forces, Indian forces, and many other countries.
What is your role in building the technology?
This is a development program between the governments of India and Israel. So GoI gave the responsibility to DRDO, and the Government of Israel gave the responsibility to IAI Israel. IAI gave the responsibility of the missile system to Rafael. And in the missile system, they decided the front portion will be developed by Rafael and the rear portion by DRDO. So, we had the responsibility as a technological partner to make the front section and we are making it.
Any notable innovations at the KRAS facility to mention?
KRAS is still in the manufacturing and we are not yet going into the R&D front. Firstly, let me survive and ensure I grow as a manufacturing excellence centre. As a strategy, the Kalyani group, which is a joint venture partner of KRAS, is already investing in R&D centres, including the one in Hyderabad. It is a very strategic understanding between Rafael and Kalyani group to make the company viable and yet not lose the long-term goals of investing in R&D.
Where do you see KRAS in another five years?
My goal, as MD of the company, is to make this company as a system integration house — both for the weapons system in the air, and on the ground also. At present, we are demonstrating only in the air. I am not talking about tanks, fighting vehicles, etc. This is another area we are looking to go into because Rafael has very advanced technologies. There is something called a remote weapon station. It essentially becomes a very good thing because when the vehicle is moving, it will still hit the target accurately. That too, when a person is not exposed to the outside environment and could be sitting in a safe environment and firing and hitting the enemy. That is one technology we are looking to offer through our services. In the current scenario, drones are a major threat. Rafael has matured the anti-drone technology to not only detect them about a km or two away but nullify them with a soft kill and even a hard kill.
In the scheme of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (Make in India), what is the road ahead for you?
Atmanirbharta could be in various aspects. It could be in manufacturing, in terms of engineering capabilities, or design capabilities. We cannot be everywhere. So we are first trying to be ‘Atma Nirbhar’ in the manufacturing process. We are not looking at the Indian market alone. It is not business viable. I have to look for the market outside to make my investment business viable. So we are planning to manufacture not only for our country’s needs but for other countries too.
What are your thoughts on Hyderabad’s missile ecosystem?
It is the foresight of the government and some of the eminent scientists who took a lot of pains to find a hub far away from the disturbances of enemy lines. Hyderabad has got some lovely engineering companies who have struggled and withstood with DRDO to come out with success. Hyderabad is the leading missile ecosystem in India. Anyone who wants to do missile business should be in Hyderabad, so is KRAS.
You are working with several MSMEs and technology partners from across the country. How do you decide on them?
KRAS itself is an MSME. We want to remain agile and flexible by being an MSME. We also have giants like TATAs, L&Ts, and Clients as our partners. That is the ecosystem we are looking to create. We are not looking at the size of people. If they have the niche capability and processes, we will be just happy to partner with them.
What is the current size of KRAS? What is the status of the new unit in Hyderabad that you plan to open?
I have about 80-plus employees in KRAS. We have an export-oriented unit (EOU) here and a direct tariff unit (DTA) in Gachibowli. In this EOU, we have invested over Rs 50 crore. We have been seeking the support of the government of Telangana to open another plant for explosive capabilities. When you are addressing missiles, it will have some explosive portion to it. I should, therefore, learn how to have the capabilities to handle explosive areas also.