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Col H S Shankar

VSM (Retd) Chairman & Managing Director

Alpha Design Technologies (ADTL)

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MAKE IN INDIA DEFENCE ELECTRONICS ISRO should distribute key technologies developed by them for free or low cost

Mar 29, 2022

…mentions Col H S Shankar, VSM (Retd) Chairman & Managing Director, Alpha Design Technologies (ADTL), a company specifically instated to ‘Make in India’ defence electronics, avionics and space systems. In his interview with Anvita Pillai, he suggests how IN-Space can make India more self-reliant, their UAV business, the Pechora contract and more. Excerpts…

The MSME sector has been gravely impacted due to COVID. Alpha being an MSME, especially in the A&D sector, what have been the key learnings? How have the last two years helped the company become resilient to future challenges?

COVID-19 did definitely affect the way we carried out our business. However, we could do business effectively without personal visits, conferences with a physical presence in meeting halls, visits to service HA/DPSUs/other business partners within & outside the country. Additionally, there was a cut-down in visits from OEMs abroad and physical seminars, celebrations, etc. These were carried out virtually. The majority of work, particularly software-related, was done from homes. In a way, the pandemic has helped the company and its employees become more flexible in their approach & endeavours to find solutions quickly. This naturally strengthened our resolve to meet future challenges with confidence.

India Space Association, last year, mentioned that they aim to make our space sector self-reliant. Although they have set the ball rolling, can you mention some key points they need to instil/achieve to make the space sector independent?

With a dynamic CMD, Dr Pawan Goenka, IN-Space has set the ball rolling from day one of its existence. It has held a series of webinars with industry reps, MSMEs and start-ups, and all views have been considered.

However, a few key areas still need attention, such as ISRO should be made to distribute key technologies developed by them, for example, on small satellites so that industries can productionise the same in larger quantities and spread them in national & international markets. Such transfer of technology (ToT) should either be free or at a low cost so that the product made by the industries become cost competitive. As it is, ISRO’s projects are funded by the GoI and by tax-paying citizens. ISRO is also not a profit-making organisation, and hence, why make industries pay for ToT?

Additionally, IN-Space should ensure the association of Indian industries with ISRO during the developmental phase of its products/projects. It should use its clout to ensure that some of the long-delayed projects for collaboration of ISRO with industries – such as PSLV manufactured by industry consortiums waited for more than a year now – are hastened.

UAVs have been a hot topic from a defence perspective. Can you elaborate on how much skin you have in the business?

ADTL is already in this business in a big way – such as mini UAVs & HALE/MALE UAVs, loitering ammunitions – all of which are being exported by ADTL’s joint venture company (JVC) ELBIT Systems, Israel (Alpha-ELSEC Defence & Aerospace Systems and Adani Elbit Advanced Systems India). We recently won a contract from the Indian army for emergency supplies of 120 loitering ammunition. Additionally, our subsidiary start-up, Flaire Unmanned Systems, recently won IAF’s Mehar Baba Competition for Swarm Drones and contracts from the army for various versions of Swarm Drones.

Do you think the guidelines for new local manufacturing will fast track the development of Indian capabilities, given usually there has been a delay in launching our aircraft?

It will surely help, as local industries can now gear their capabilities. However, many companies are in sub-systems/parts manufacturing and will still need system integrators. These can be undertaken for UAVs by MSMEs, but it has to be through bigger industries only for larger aircraft.

ADTL, not long ago, bagged a contract to upgrade Pechora Surface to air missile systems. Can you tell us more about the project and how far along are you in it?

We got the orders for upgrading 1980 Vintage Pechora Missile & Radar Systems with stiff competition from BEL, ECIL, etc. A large number of indigenously developed systems, such as radar transmitters, thermal imager-based electro-optics systems, optronics tracker, communication network, indigenous development/manufacture of gearboxes, slip rings, cables, etc, have also been undertaken. This project opens the way for upgrading various Russian-oriented radar systems held by defence forces in large numbers.

Make in India has been your company’s motto since its inception. What challenges are you facing to ‘Make in India’ in the current market? How can the government aid in easing your journey?

Our challenges relate mainly to ensuring timely decision-making at higher service echelons and cutting down delays in the conduct of trials & evaluations. GoI has come out with various new schemes under ‘Aatmanirbhar’, such as Make 1/Make 2/ Make 3, IDEX, etc. We are active partners in undertaking these challenges.

What does 2022 look like for your organisation? Are there any major tieups/reveals/launches in the pipeline which you can tell us about?

With COVID-related problems slowly receding and with the new schemes of GoI being announced, we see tremendous growth opportunities. Alpha’s targets for 2021-22 will be ₹700+ cr is witnessing a growth of almost 65% increase in sales turnover and profits. Our planned dispatches will be above ₹1200+ cr during 2022-23 with higher profits (nearly 80% increase). Hence, it will be a bumper harvest, as far as ADTL is concerned. This has not been easy – but backed by professionalism and great efforts by our 1200+ personnel.

As far as 2022 is concerned, we have so far acquired Kortas Industries, which is famous for manufacturing critical components to ISRO/VSSC for PSLV/GSLV projects. Further, in 2022-23, three more JVCs with NTP, USA; ImageSAT, Israel and Elbit Systems, Israel are on the anvil to enhance our capabilities in the space domain.

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  • Col H S Shankar graduated with a BE from the University of Mysore and ME from IISC, Bangalore. In his service with Army/EME, he took part in both, the 1965 and 1971, wars against Pakistan and was awarded the Vishita Seva Medal (VSM) for upgrading the Tigercat ground-to-air missile system. After 22 years’ service in the army, he was absorbed into BEL in 1986 as Dy General Manager and rose to become Director (R&D) from 1996 - 2003. After retirement from BEL in March 2003, he joined as the CMD of ADTL in April 2004.

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