Innovative ideas and risk-taking necessary to build an Indian defence industrial complex
In 2012, chairman Kalyani Group Baba Kalyani called one of his directors (Kalyani Strategic Systems), Col Rajinder Singh Bhatia to his office. An idea had planted itself in chairman’s head and was troubling him. Recounting the meeting, which eventually had far-reaching consequences for the Group, though unknown at that time, Col Bhatia, now president and chief executive officer, defence and aerospace, Bharat Forge Ltd (an offshoot of Kalyani Group), says, “The chairman was perturbed when I entered his room. He asked me, ‘Colonel, why has India not been able to produce an artillery gun? Is it so difficult to make a gun?’ He had read some article about the state of Indian artillery and how nothing had happened since 1986.”
Col Bhatia assured his chairman that it was not difficult to make a gun if they set their heart and mind to it. Being one of the leading names worldwide in the forging business, and with their expertise in metallurgy, Kalyani saw artillery as a natural progression of his existing business. Hence, they started to put together the building blocks. The first step was off-the-shelf purchase of a 155/45mm Austrian gun, which entailed fair amount of paperwork and persuasion. After all, how could a private entity import a weapon system! Since this had never happened before there was no regulatory framework for such a requirement.
Eventually, persistence paid. The Kalyani Group was able to procure the gun, which became its primer. The next step was creating a production facility. An entire manufacturing line was acquired from Ruag of Switzerland, which included tools, fixture, furnaces etc., to create a competitive unit in Pune. The process took nearly a year, and by 2013, the gun plant was ready to roll.
With infrastructure in place, the focus shifted to the training of manpower. According to Bhatia, a team of ‘master engineers’ was picked up from within the company to train with what was considered the best in the world and over time they became the trainers themselves for the rest. Once the building blocks were in place, Kalyani Group started work on its first artillery gun, Bharat 52, a 155/52mm towed gun, which was rolled out in less than two years’ time. Since then, “We have built seven different artillery platforms in various categories,” says Bhatia with a touch of pride.
Surrounded by rain-washed verdure, the Kalyani gun plant is currently a part of the main Bharat Forge factory. However, plans are in place to expand the plant once the gun orders kick in. Right now, they have confirmed orders for five ATAGS (Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System), but they expect that order for 20 more would be placed soon.
As FORCE was taken on a conducted tour of the factory complex that included the machining unit, the closed forging plant and the open forging plant, two things stood out. First, the sleekness of the buildings and the state-of-the-art imported equipment, both of which screamed serious investment and commitment to quality.
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