In an environment where large corporations with no experience in building defence equipment — such as the Adani and Anil Ambani Groups — are hoping to be chosen by the defence ministry as “strategic partners” for defence manufacture, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL) is a rarity: A company that has incrementally developed the capability to design and manufacture military equipment; in pursuit of a clear aim to graduate into the manufacture of military aircraft.
Last month, on the sidelines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, DTL signed a partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a global leader in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). DTL plans to leverage this partnership to become an Indian “systems integrator” — the entity at the apex of a manufacturing chain, which integrates assemblies and sub-assemblies built by Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers into a final product.
Manufacturing state-of-the-art UAVs, like the “medium altitude long endurance” system that India’s military is buying, is only a waypoint for DTL. Eventually, the company —which already builds one-sixth of the fuselage of the Sukhoi-30MKI, and one-fifth of the Tejas fighter’s fuselage for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) — aims to become a full-scale systems integrator of sophisticated combat aircraft.
Towards this end, DTL has proceeded systematically. From manufacturing precision-engineered hydraulic pumps in the 1980s, to aerospace grade components in the 1990s, to aerospace assemblies later that decade, to major aerospace assemblies today, DTL believes the next logical step towards building sophisticated aerospace systems is to be a systems integrator for UAVs — flying platforms, but less complex than manned combat aircraft.
“We believe this is the logical moment to transition up the value chain to become a systems integrator. En route to building complete fighter jets or bigger aerospace systems, we believe that UAV development and integration is realistic and achievable for Dynamatic”, says the company’s chief executive, Udayant Malhoutra.
“In my mind, we are working to become the private-sector HAL of tomorrow”, he emphasises.
To assess DTL’s ambitions and capabilities, Business Standard visited its brand new manufacturing location — a 27.5-acre facility at Devanhalli, adjoining Bengaluru’s new international airport, where the UAV line will come up. Capable of housing half-a-million square feet of hangar space, Devanhalli is accessible by large cargo trucks and provides ready access to the airport.
At nearby Doddabalapur, DTL owns a large research farm that could be converted to manufacture later, if required.
With DTL’s long-standing facility at Peenya, outside Bengaluru, running short of space, the manufacture of flap-track beams for Airbus’ A330 wide-body airliners has already been shifted to Devanhalli, along with the assembly of Bell-407 cabins for Bell Helicopters.
Meanwhile, DTL’s Peenya plant continues manufacturing flap-track beams for every one of the 54 single-aisle airliners (A318, A319, A320 and A321) that Airbus assembles each month; and also components for Boeing’s P-8I maritime aircraft and CH-47E Chinook helicopters.
In contrast to the relatively stable income from global aerospace manufacturers, DTL would be in uncertain territory in UAV manufacture. The company visualises a market opportunity in India of about 5,000 UAVs for military and civilian uses but, so far, there are only three “requests for information” (RFIs) issued by the military, for which the DTL-IAI combine will have to compete with global UAV manufacturers.
This includes an RFI issued last year for 150 MALE UAVs for the three services; a 2015 enquiry for 50 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial Systems (NSUAS) for use from large ships for surveillance of coastal waters and India’s exclusive economic zone; and a 2015 RFI for 600 mini-UAVs for the army’s infantry battalions.
DTL has experience in UAVs, having participated in the DRDO’s programme to build the Lakshya pilotless vehicle. In 2015, DTL signed a “teaming agreement” with US company, AeroVironment, to co-develop the Cheel UAV — which is one of the six pilot projects designated during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India. However, no orders have resulted from that initiative.
Even so, Malhoutra remains bullish about the opportunities for UAVs, particularly in civilian applications. He cites the potential for low-cost UAVs for crop spraying or as airborne sensors to gauge soil conditions. Pointing to DTL’s long experience in agriculture (70 per cent of all Indian tractors incorporate DTL’s hydraulics), he forecasts: “UAVs will initially come in for military applications, but will find sustainable value mainly from the civilian market.”