Its Research and Development capabilities is what has helped Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to meet the strategic defence needs of the country successfully. In an interaction with the editorial team of Electronics Bazaar, V. Mahesh, Director-R&D, BEL, shares the organisation’s vision for the Indian defence electronics market.
EB: What would you say are the driving factors that will enable BEL to grow at a projected 12 per cent over the next five years?
There are many factors driving the growth of BEL. Its order book position as on September 1, 2018, touched a record level of over ₹ 500 billion. The company diversified into new areas in defence as well as non-defence segments to expand its business. The new areas of focus in the defence sector include:
- Cyber and network security
- RF/IR seekers for missiles
- High energy weapons – laser and microwave based DEWs (directed energy weapons)
- Inertial navigation systems
- Pilot navigational aids
- Threat detection and counter measure systems – DIRCM (directional infra-red counter measures) for aircrafts and helicopters
- AI based Products and those in Non-Defence sector include
- Homeland Security
- Smart city applications
- Multi junction solar cells
The ‘Make In India’ policy of the Government has given the thrust to increase in indigenous content in defence manufacturing. This constant effort to focus on R&D and closely working with DRDO has enabled BEL to achieve 89 per cent of its turnover from indigenous technologies during 2017-18. The company invested 9.79 per cent of its sales turnover during 2017-18 on R&D, and is planning to increase this further in the coming years.
A part of BEL’s R&D investments over the years has been on infrastructure upgradation and expansion, and this has resulted in significant infrastructure and test facilities being established across all its units. BEL is establishing overseas offices to increase the exports.
This R&D based growth has enabled BEL to drive exports and offsets, and form strategic alliances to bridge technology gaps.
In keeping with the modernisation plans for the Indian defence forces and the opportunities available for the company, BEL is confident of achieving a healthy growth rate of 12-15 per cent in the coming years.
EB: Could you elaborate on the design and development capabilities of BEL?
BEL has a three-tier R&D structure with about 2400 engineers and 30 R&D centres spread across its units in the country. The three tiers are:
- Central Research Laboratories
- Product Development and Innovation Centre (PDIC)
- The Development and Engineering Divisions associated with each SBU/Units of BEL
The Central Research Laboratories are located at Bengaluru and Ghaziabad. Both are engaged in blue sky research and applied research in critical technology areas.
The PDIC works on the core design technology modules like radar signal processing, defence software, encryption modules, RF and microwave components, computing elements, monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs), etc.
The Product Development and Innovation Centre takes inputs from the Central Research Labs of BEL, apart from external R&D labs, and develops new products or a family of products in all the verticals at BEL.
The Development and Engineering divisions associated with each SBU of BEL are involved in developing systems or systems of systems, which are aligned to the growth of their respective business units.
Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) in selected functional areas (radar & weapon systems, communication, and electro-optics & lasers) give further thrust to research and development activities. CTOs help to map state-of-art technologies with the product requirements, building the sub-systems and systems, thereby contributing to generating business for each SBU.
EB: What are the top global developments or threats in electronic warfare (EW) and avionics that you feel the Indian public should be aware of to properly value the contributions of BEL in this space?
BEL in association with DRDO, and other technology partners are working on many critical technologies in electronic warfare and avionics to meet the strategic needs of the country. For example, the world is moving towards using drones for many applications. The drones with low radar cross section (RCS) are difficult to detect and can become potential threats. BEL is developing drone guard systems, with soft/hard kill options, to control the rogue drones. Another example is Prison/Class room Jammers.
On the Avionics front, new technologies with integrated digital receivers, missile approach warning systems, laser warning systems and IR counter measures are emerging for aerial platforms. Newer technologies for sonars, fire control systems, torpedoes and decoys are being developed in association with DRDO. BEL is also working on satellite signal monitoring and directed energy weapon solutions.
EB: What do you personally believe are some of the most exciting BEL projects that are now in the public domain?
Some of the interesting projects, which are in various stages of development at BEL, are modern radars and sonars, software defined radios, drone guard systems, cyber security systems, RF/IR seekers, system-on-chip solutions, missile/laser warning systems, etc, to name a few. These products are going to make a good impact on the growth of BEL in the coming years.
EB: What is your vision for BEL in 2025?
BEL is gearing up with new strategies to consolidate and retain its leadership position in the Indian defence electronics market. With the government’s enhanced thrust for indigenisation, BEL is looking at innovative ways to address the market requirements through suitable models like collaborative R&D with niche technology companies, strategic alliances, partnerships with startup companies, etc.
The aim is to be the most preferred defence electronics solutions provider, thus strengthening our leadership position in India and making the country self-reliant. BEL also aims to expand its presence and operations worldwide and become a world class enterprise in professional electronics through quality, technology and innovation.
EB: Could you walk us through your personal journey of growth at BEL?
I started my journey as a probationary engineer in BEL at Bengaluru in March 1985. In a span of 33 years, I have gained rich experience working in diverse areas of technology.
My first assignment at BEL was the development of telemetry systems, control systems for antenna tracking of launch vehicles, and timing systems for the Indian space programme, in association with ISRO.
I had a brief stint at D&E Radar before moving to Electronic Warfare & Avionics (EW&A). During my 12-year stint at the EW&A Strategic Business Unit of BEL-Bengaluru, I had an opportunity to get involved in the development of communication ESM (electronic counter measures) and ECM (electronic counter measures) systems, in association with DLRL/DRDO. I had the privilege of leading the team developing communication interception, monitoring and analysis systems for government agencies. I have also led teams for diversification into other emerging areas of electronic warfare.
During my tenure as Additional General Manager (D&E-TCS/Milcom) from April 2010 to August 2012, I had the opportunity to facilitate collaborative development of various network elements, both in-house and with selected technology partners.
From September 2012, as Chief Scientist of BEL’s Central Research Laboratory in Bengaluru, I led a team of around 230 scientists working in the diverse areas of communication, network systems, embedded systems, radar signal processing, sensor signal processing, RF and microwave technologies, as well as communication/network/cyber security solutions for five years. Later, I had a brief stint as Executive Director (EW&A) and as Executive Director (Technology Planning) at BEL’s Corporate Office, before taking charge as Director (R&D) of Bharat Electronics Ltd on June 01, 2018.
EB: What are your mantras for successful leadership?
Success does not come easy and there is no shortcut to it. But if we strongly believe in our dreams and pursue them with conviction and perseverance, things start falling in place. We may come across failures now and then, but we need to move ahead, making use of the lessons learnt from failures. If one merely speaks, he or she can only tell what they know; but if one listens to others as well, then one can learn more from them and build upon the learning. Ideas evolve and get refined in this manner. I believe in taking the team along, encouraging them to come out with new ideas for improvements, giving them the push when it is needed, and the much needed support at tough times. This has always yielded results.