The Company’s Open Innovation Strategy Focuses on Scientific and Technical R&D, Collaboration with its Ecosystem, and Market-Centred Innovation
Last year was unusual. How did Thales adapt to new realities dictated by the Covid-19 Pandemic?
Last year was indeed an unusual one. At Thales, we express our solidarity with the country, with all those affected by it. We have been standing strong together, along with our 1800+ employees and our partners, in every possible way to help India come out of this pandemic safe and stronger.
Even before the nation-wide lockdown began in the last week of March in 2020, Thales had started working with reduced presence of staff at any time in its offices across the country. From the start, Thales’ main objective has been to ensure safety of its employees. Health and total well-being of our employees have always been a top priority and we have tried to ensure that without compromising on our standards of services and support for our customers. Thales employees, whether working remotely or working from office (which were opened in the second week of May with all sanitary and safety measures during the unlock situation) have been fully mobilised in the battle against COVID-19, attempting to bring the same level of services and support for its customers across our markets as during the normal days.
Together, we have remained steadfast to ensure our colleagues’ safety and business continuity to support our customers in these challenging times.
From Thales’s perspective, how is Aero India 2021 different from its previous editions in terms of your exhibits and participation?
This year, Thales will provide the visitors a chance to witness the latest cutting-edge technologies across civil and defence aerospace as well as land and naval defence along with a special feature on its efforts towards ‘Make in India’.
At Aero India 2021, Thales will showcase its airborne optronic capability, the targeting and reconnaissance pod TALIOS. It combines targeting and tactical reconnaissance capabilities in a single pod that will be able to embed Artificial Intelligence in the future, and also a range of rockets for fixed and rotary wing military aircraft.
This year, Thales will also bring the latest addition to its family of airborne surveillance radars, the AirMaster C, to the air show. With this new product, Thales offers an optimised surveillance solution for a broader array of platform types and operators, ensuring they benefit from the highest levels of mission performance as they face the new challenges ahead.
Among the other demos for the tri-forces, systems like NextWave and SYNAPS software defined radios, armaments, small arms, counter-UAV solution and air defence solutions such as STARStreak (for which a teaming agreement has been recently signed between Thales and Bharat Dynamics limited) will take centre stage.
Some of the other highlights at Aero India this year will include military and civil avionics, Air Traffic Management Systems, among others.
Did the pandemic affect your ongoing programmes in India? Can you give an update on all your programmes in India?
As a company that has been playing an essential role in India’s growth story since 1953, we made sure that operations run as seamlessly as possible even during the difficult times for our customers.
With our colleagues who have the convenience of working remotely or from the offices, we have made a conscious effort to follow a ‘business as usual’ approach across the critical sectors we operate in. Our teams handling the programmes in key verticals such as defence, transportation and aerospace in the country closely followed the guidelines set out by the customers and ensured deliveries accordingly. Our Engineering Competence Centres (ECC) teams—in Bengaluru and Delhi-NCR—work with complex IT infrastructure in office premises. However, they adapted quickly to the evolving environment and delivered on their project commitments on time. The centres continued to grow, getting new employees onboard virtually, during this time. Another instance from our digital identity and security team that I can highlight is of our global technical support teams based in India for our Cloud Protection and Licensing business, which also outperformed and supported our customers worldwide in important sectors such as banking, governments, airlines, major enterprises, healthcare, among others. This is noteworthy considering the increased importance of cybersecurity during this time.
Our joint ventures and the supplier ecosystem also remained active to ensure that the deliveries weren’t impacted.
Thales has expanded its presence in India. What does future in India look like currently, especially given the ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Modernisation coupled with self-reliance is the primary focus area of the Indian government. We believe that the ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat plan of government of India is giving a big boost to the Indian industry, finding resonance in a variety of sectors, be it defence, technology, aerospace or transport. Present in India since 1953, Thales has been contributing to the country’s growth story by sharing its technologies and expertise in different sectors. Through our own efforts and teams, and through the joint efforts with our partners and customers, we are committed to continually contribute towards the vision of the Indian government of building of the ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat.
Our recent move to our new India headquarters that also has a bigger Engineering Competence Centre for our Digital Identity and Security business in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, is a testament to this growth momentum. This new office is a key stake for Thales in India; it symbolises our long-term commitment to the country and demonstrates how Thales is growing bigger and becoming more local here. Our plan is to continue fostering collaboration and innovation in our teams as we grow our business while remaining close to our customers across defence and civil markets in India.
At the DefExpo, Thales signed an agreement with Bharat Forge to manufacture F90 rifles. What is the development on that?
At DefExpo 2020, Thales signed an MoU with Kalyani Group for the development of F90 rifles in India with the aim to serve Indian as well as international markets. This cooperation is a testament to the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Indian government and has carved the way to a potential licensing agreement.
Thales has been engaged in capacity-building in India through its engagement with both academia and industry. Can you share some details on this?
On the path of building the economy, the Indian government has been focused on enriching education, especially technical education in the country. Education and growth have a common link—innovation. More education leads to more innovation and therefore, more prosperity.
For Thales, innovation is in its DNA and central to its strategy of growth, competitiveness and people development. The company’s open innovation strategy focuses on scientific and technical R&D (with academia and research centres), collaboration with its ecosystem (SMEs and start-ups), and market-centered innovation (co-innovation with customers). This strong focus on R&D and innovation enables Thales to continue to strengthen its engineering force in India that is known for abundance of skilled engineers and competence in research and development. Our engineering centre teams in Bengaluru and Delhi NCR, that together have over 1,200 engineers, work closely with Indian supply chain and engineering partners, thereby increasing industrial activity as well as development of their complex system engineering skills and domain knowledge respectively.
Thales has a long-term commitment to India with the aim to support India’s self-reliance in defence, transportation, aerospace and digital identity and security. And, through our various upskilling programmes that are organised in India as well as at our sites across the globe, we have been working relentlessly towards instilling confidence in our engineers while developing their skill sets to further support their careers in core engineering.
Thales takes its commitment to capacity building to the next level by also collaborating with India’s dynamic institutes such as IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, and Indian Institute of Science Bangalore to continue fostering an ecosystem for research and consequently securing innovations for tomorrow in the country.
What innovation is happening in Thales in terms of automation, intelligent systems, and man-machine interface?
We, at Thales, believe in delivering innovations that make a difference to customers, to society and to the company itself. Innovation is nothing new at Thales; it has always been part of the Group’s history and remains crucial to its success both today and in the future. We invest 1 billion euros a year in self-funded R&D, and more than 30,000 Thales employees are directly involved in research and technology.
Innovation at Thales is not driven just by investment alone but also by the passion to discover new ways of stepping up to the challenges of modern society. We bring to the table a unique combination of technologies and talent and build on a unique heritage of technical excellence, drawing strength from our global dimension and from the diversity of our workforce (https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/global/innovation-thales).
For example, Thales is prime contractor for the MMCM programme, the world’s first project to develop a prototype autonomous system for detecting and neutralising sea mines and underwater improvised explosive devices (UWIEDs), under a cooperation agreement between France and the United Kingdom.
By rapidly neutralising static underwater threats—while at the same time ensuring that human operators are not exposed to risk—the system gives navies and naval authorities tactical and operational room for manoeuvre, so that they can ensure full, safe access to strategic sea lanes (including straits) as well as navigation routes for deterrent and combat forces.
In November 2020, the first demonstrators went from the prototype phase to the production phase. Eight complete systems will be delivered to the Royal Navy and the French Navy from 2022, having benefited directly from the intensive testing of the demonstrators by Thales and the two navies.