Everything about the chairman and managing director of Alpha Design Technologies, Col H.S. Shankar underscores the importance of imagination -- from the name that he has chosen for his company to the guiding philosophy that is leading him on.
This is doubly remarkable, because both his earlier careers – as Indian Army officer and director, Bharat Electronics Ltd – demanded conformity and adherence to procedures. From there to founding Alpha Design Technologies in 2003 based on the principles of research and development has been a short, but eventful journey; a journey in which imagination and entrepreneurship has gone hand in hand. Today, Alpha Design Technologies has an annual turnover of Rs 401.03 crore and an order book of Rs 9113.21 crore.
At Aero India 2017, Alpha Design has one of the bigger stands, a testimony to its sure-footed arrival in the indigenous defence manufacturing sector. Talking to FORCE at the Show, Col Shankar attributes company’s rapid growth to its two-pronged strategy. He says, “There are two ways in which we have grown: One, by becoming the offset partner of the foreign original equipment manufacturers; and two, by imbibing global technologies and offering cost advantage to the Indian customers.”
A bit about imagination. In 2003, when Col Shankar made the transition from public sector to private sector, the indigenous defence industry was firmly in the clutches of the former, with the latter knocking feverishly at the door. It was also the time when the nascent defence procurement procedure policy had started to make feeble noises about offsets. Col Shankar saw the future. And he realised that if he could demonstrate to the foreign vendors the ability to manufacture substantive material in India at competitive rates he could be chosen as the defence offset partner by them. So the journey began.
In the beginning he approached various foreign companies and offered to make samples of select components for them for free. “I told them, chose us if we meet your requirements,” he recalls. The big breakthrough happened when he invited the visiting team from Airbus Defence and Space (then EADS) to see his facility in Bengaluru. What they saw kindled their interest.
The Airbus D&S asked Alpha to make rubber gasket for one of the parts that went into making its missile launch detection system (MLDS) for helicopters to warn them about shoulder-fired missiles. After a few attempts, Alpha was able to produce a sample that satisfied Airbus D&S. Thus Alpha became a tiny part of the Airbus’ global supply chain. Gradually, as confidence levels grew, Col Shankar became bolder and more ambitious. He asked Airbus to let him make more components for the MLDS, again without any cost to Airbus. Gradually, Alpha started to make more and more parts of the MLDS, till such time that Airbus produced only two components valued at 30 per cent of the complete system. Today, Alpha supplies 2,500-3,000 of these systems to Airbus D&S, which are integrated and tested by the OEM.
When a requirement for a similar system emerged in India for the Cheetah helicopters, Alpha offered the same system to the Indian ministry of defence. Becoming the prime, it bought the two components from Airbus and integrated them in India thereby substantially reducing the cost of MLDS. “The government has recently cleared the programme for the upgrade of Mi-17 helicopters, for which we will be supplying the MLDS,” says Col Shankar.
“This is just one of the examples of our work philosophy,” says Col Shankar. “We don’t wait for orders to come. We believe in building our capability first even if it calls for substantial investment. For us research and development is the key,” he adds.
Recently, Alpha Design signed an agreement with ISRO for assembly, integration and testing of IRNSS satellites. In the next two years, with the help of ISRO, Alpha Design Technologies will be investing in creating, an ultra-modern satellite manufacturing, assembly, integration, testing and qualification facilities. Eventually, it hopes to independently build and supply satellites to ISRO.
“The ‘Make in India’ thrust of the government is very encouraging, as it puts greater focus on indigenous manufacturing. Clearly, this will create greater opportunities for the private sector as well,” says Col Shankar. “The good thing is we are poised to take advantage of these.”