The BharatShakti team comprising Founder Nitin A Gokhale and Editor-in-Chief S K Chatterji interviewed Mr J D Patil, Sr VP, Head – Defence & Aerospace, Larsen & Toubro. L&T has been a major player in the area of defence equipment development and manufacture for decades. The major issues discussed included naval, air and land based platforms on which the company has been working. The frank and open interview is being presented in 2 parts.
INTERVIEW WITH J D PATIL, SR VP, HEAD – DEFENCE & AEROSPACE, LARSEN & TOUBRO
Nitin A Gokhale (NG): INS Arihant was a path breaking success story for the Indian Defence Industry (IDI). How far has the story progressed? Are you involved in its sea trials? What is the next step for L&T in the submarines arena?
Jayant D Patil (JDP): The journey of Arihant is indeed historic in the Indian Context. From the inception, emphasis has been on self-reliance. For L&T, Arihant has been a remarkable journey – it began with ab-initio technology development challenging our two and a half decade track record in world class manufacturing know how gained from in-house development of technologies for producing pressure vessels, ultra-clean production of nuclear power reactors and ultra-precision manufacture of space launch vehicle boosters in metallurgically complex steels.
At the platform level, L&T’s involvement has been from the detailed engineering through manufacture of hull and pressure proof structures, followed by the integration on board, and readying the platform and systems for trials. It is important & pertinent that the developmental approach and continuous innovation replaced procurement of any ToT for detailed engineering, manufacturing and integration was entrusted to L&T. L&T’s involvement and contribution to India’s strategic submarine programme was not publicly known given the classified nature of the program. Our moment of pride arrived when INS Arihant was launched in 2009, through a formal announcement.
Arihant program is unique and exemplified by continued innovation of processes unlike Global programs epitomised by leapfrogging and then maintaining status quo until the next leapfrogging opportunity arrives decades later. Indian Model of continuous improvement and innovation has delivered results although we may have begun just below the globally best technologies to start with. We matured with time, and the practices that we now follow on construction, are among the global best.
Today, L&T is capable of detailed design & engineering (D&E) of submarines based on basic sketch design, having been associated with the program from technology to construction for past one and a half decades. L&T’s production technologies for platform as well as equipment is also in-house developed, thanks to collaboration and funding of the developments by the program.
With this and subsequent developments, I can say that L&T can leverage, and is ready to replicate what was done in the case of Arihant. We are thus uniquely positioned to build conventional Submarines. In fact, from 2001 onwards, different committees appointed by MoD have evaluated capabilities and capacity of L&T yards for readiness for the same, and their reports have been positive. Also L&T has held License for design and manufacturing of Warships, Submarines, and major subsystems thereof since 2002 when the licensing defence production began. An added value by L&T is the in-house development of critical equipment and systems including sonar domes, forward weapon complex – again without any ToT from anywhere. Evolving platform specific equipment and systems design out of basic science and technology, engineering, prototyping, qualifying and operating them is a major achievement that made the program attain very high levels of indigenous content.
The Industry does not require the basic sketch design for entire range of auxiliary vessels and most of the class of warships with the exception of Aircraft Carriers, Destroyers and Frigates where Naval Design fulfils the gap for India. Having built manufacturing technologies for submarines, we could easily adapt them for far less complex hull manufacture for surface ships without need to buy any ToT.
NG: Tell us about Naval Weapon Systems that L&T has produced so far? How have these been received by the Navy and what are the projects you are working on?
JDP: L&T has realised a wide variety of missile, rocket and torpedo weapon delivery systems for the Indian Navy vessels. Besides, we have also realised land based modules for training of Navy contingent. These systems have been tested for performance and installed on board, and have been accepted by the Navy. We began with replacement of obsolescent weapon delivery systems on board operational ships in the mid 90’s. The first program was replacement of Launchers for WM-18 Rockets on board LSTs that we replaced with indigenously developed stabilised rocket launchers, followed by development of indigenous Triple Tube torpedo launchers for the light weight ASW torpedoes.
These were followed by Dhanush that included one –off in the world class of stabilisation and fire control systems. Dhanush marked true maturity of L&T to conceptualise, design, build and integrate a complex weapon system on Naval Platforms. As a partner to BRAHMOS program L&T built and integrated a series of inclined as well as vertical Naval weapon complexes (Launch Modules, Fire Control Systems, Re-loaders, hierarchical integration with Ship Combat Management Systems) across multiple classes of Naval ships such as Rajput Class destroyers, Talwar Class Frigates, P15A class destroyers.
The new class of ships being commissioned / constructed (P15A, P15B, and P17A) are also being fitted with multiple Weapon Delivery systems from L&T. These are ASW weapon suite comprising IRLs and ITTLs, and BRAHMOS in Anti-ship – Land attack modes.
L&T also built underwater launch systems and forward weapon complex for strategic submarines. This track record, and skills built served the Navy for repair / replacement of such systems on board operational submarines / ships.
With its track record, L&T is well poised to indigenously build & integrate weapon delivery systems across Navy’s ship-building programmes. Navy’s leadership has been constantly supportive of building Indian capabilities in these domains and with their continued support we can look forward to indigenous substitution of the balance one / two (Air Defence and CIWS) weapon systems that continue to be imported today.
NG: Pinaka has been in service for some time now. What is the focus as far as upgrades are concerned?
JDP: The first two regiments of Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System (MBRL) Pinaka were inducted over 2006-2010. L&T, updated the Pinaka systems to state-of-the art levels rather than build obsolescent systems that underwent user acceptance during the late 90s. This was made feasible as DRDO (ARDE) was AHSP and facilitated concurrent re-engineering dovetailing with the same with production program. This model needs to be replicated to gain a decade in life of our cutting edge weapon systems. Having built and delivered technologically ‘current’ systems, L&T has been supporting user regiments on as needed (call) basis as a national endeavour in line with our commitment to the Indian Artillery Forces, awaiting formalising this relationship through Life Support contracts.
We await contract for supply of further two regiments by FY16. Induction of six more regiments has been cleared by Defence Acquisition Council in December, 2015, and we await contract for these in FY 2017. As designers of the systems, L&T, Tatas and DRDO (Armament Research and Development Establishment) have planned upgrades with the user involvement to address obsolescence so that what we deliver in 2017-20 would be again technologically state-of-the-art and thus obviating need for upgrade until these are exploited for at least a decade or more.
Brig SK Chatterji (SKC): Will it be viable financially for L&T to continue with the Pinaka project given the limitations of the requirements of the Indian Army, or are you exploring possibilities of exporting the system?
JDP: The user had originally planned for induction of 22 regiments (overall) of the Pinaka system. With 10 of these ordered during the 11th and 12th plan period. With the Long Range Pinaka rockets under development trials, we expect the user to opt for the longer range rockets for the balance regiments to be ordered during the 13th plan (2018-23). With the performance of Pinaka, and enhanced user confidence in this potent indigenous weapon system we expect the user to continue acquisition of Pinaka over subsequent 14th plan period as well.
The price performance of Pinaka has not gone unnoticed by the prospective buyer nations and there indeed have been interest expressed to acquire the same. In order that India gets a foot print in Defence Exports, L&T has been exploring export of weapon delivery systems, and Defence Engineering Systems. However, besides necessary clearances from GoI, P-P-P model will need to be created to make the exports happen given that there are multiple stakeholders in Pinaka Viz. OFB for ammunition, BEML for Vehicles & Ground systems, L&T and Tata Power for Weapon Delivery systems.
SKC: Give us an idea about the comparative cost of Pinaka and rocket artillery systems at par, globally?
JDP: Pinaka, as an Artillery System, designed and developed within the country, is quite competitive with comparable systems across the world. It can be, subject to the GoI clearances, positioned as an economic Indian artillery solution in this category. I am confident this would be a very viable proposition for export to countries cleared by Govt of India. This may however need a Government’s support for exports as most exports in these class of weapons systems are backed by a financing package (Line of Credit) by the exporting nation.
SKC: You have on offer both the tracked and towed variants of 155mm Howitzers. Could you explain about your partnerships with OEMs for these projects? Please touch upon technology issues and the experience that your partners have in terms having already fielded similar guns with other armies.
JDP: Our approach of joint development has been quite novel and the result is the two gun systems we fielded for these gun programmes. In both these cases neither the foreign player nor we had an exact product to completely qualify Indian requirement, but both had the capability and ability to innovate and jointly fund development of a new differentiated product within one and a half year. Our acquisition decision cycle allows this time with the agility of decision making and risk appetite of private sector.
With this approach we almost concurrently created two new Products – two long-range artillery guns – one in collaboration with Samsung (Hanwha) of Korea (Tracked Self Propelled Gun System K9 Vajra-T) and the other in collaboration with Nexter of France (Towed Gun System – Trajan). These were created to fully comply with Indian requirement by pooling in resources, man power, capabilities etc. L&T indigenously developed 13 subsystems of the K9 Vajra-T Guns including the fire control systems and these were integrated into the first prototype at our Talegaon facility, for the trials. For the Trajan also, L&T developed all subsystems below Gun trunnion including Trails, Gun carriage, APU, Mobility systems and reloading systems.
Incidentally, both guns have completed trials, and complied with the user requirements completely over 2013-15, which by itself is a first since India bought artillery guns in mid 80s.
SKC: How difficult is it to get test facilities?
JDP: It used to be impossible but for a visionary Senior Official’s pragmatic decision making, which allowed internal trials. At that time it was a tall decision. The foreign OEMs were also allowed the same internal trial time on a level playing basis. This achieved a win-win, having familiarised well with the equipment for a month. So this made a big difference.
The past four programmes for the Army we participated into, before these guns, you want to know why we couldn’t come through. We were more than 98 % compliant. We had never fired and tuned the system at ranges as these won’t be available. Our experience was that trial team comes out with some surprise at the last moment (never documented in RFP or Trial procedures before moving to ranges) and insists testing be done that way to result in an inference that – “you have not met this requirement”. Being 98% complete in the first attempt is no mean achievement in competition with Global majors who were facilitated by their users and Govts for developing systems for their country. When offering it to India they offer a serially produced (mature) system after building 100s and 1000s earlier. Our system of user trials used to be completely non level playing in that sense. In T-72 Fire control system -our user did not give us a tank, we were told to bring all subsystems and integrate at ranges in a few weeks and start shooting trial in 15 days! This is not how anyone should evaluate and buy systems. The process was just completely against Indian players.
Today I can tell you that one user (from the Army) who has supported Indigenisation is Artillery. Artillery has actually made a difference, and that’s exactly why Artillery has a series of successful acquisition programmes. Pinaka has been inducted and more regiments are on the cards. BM 21 upgrade has been contracted and delivery is about to begin. Tracked SP Gun contract is under negotiations, Ultra-Light howitzers are about to be concluded, Towed Guns trials have been successfully concluded paving way for contract discussions after GS evaluation conclusion, and Dhanush program at OFB is being hand held with active support and facilitation during development as well as testing. Other Army Users, need to assimilate Artillery’s learning & approach to evaluation to procure indigenous systems (made in India), and Indian Industry gets what is due.
*Watch this space for Part II of the interview