When global aircraft to ammunition makers are courting India for its military upgrade, a local defence startup and a mid-sized company making combat gear don’t want to rely on government orders

SSS Defence, a three-year-old company looking to build sniper rifles; and MKU Ltd., one of the nation’s biggest makers of bulletproof vests and helmets, prefer to focus outside India.

“Our business plan was never about selling to government of India,” Vivek Krishnan, chief executive officer of SSS Defence, told at India’s 11th biennial Defence Expo in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. “It was to serve as an original equipment manufacturer and get into the global markets.”

MKU too has focused on exports so the business has always been steady, said Neeraj Gupta, managing director at the company.

Defence equipment makers are vying for $130-billion tenders expected in the next five to seven years. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is yet to finalise any of the big-ticket purchases under his make-in-India initiative for defence, barring the scaled-down order to buy Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation. Most of the fresh capex is going into completing past orders.

The Indian capital procurement cycle is not something that will be increasing, according to Krishnan. “And if you don’t have an export component in this business, you are pretty much done.”

Here’s what the two companies do:


Exports contribute nearly 50-60 percent of MKU’s sales comes on an average with occasional orders from the Indian Army for the bullet proof helmets, said Gupta, a second-generation entrepreneur in the defence business set up by his father and elder brother. MKU received orders for 1.59 lakh helmets in 2017 from the army which it’s in the process of delivering, he said.

MKU, with four manufacturing units in India, supplies bullet proof helmets, vests and other protective combat gear to more than 100 countries, he said.

The company employs about 500 people and plans to increase that threefold to 1500 in three years, along with doubling of revenues from the existing Rs 350-400 crore, Gupta said.

MKU is now focusing on electro optics (rifle telescopes, night vision equipment) with investment in technology and manpower. “We think for the next phase of growth, electro-optic is the opportunity.”

The company has also ventured into network centric system that combines sensors, weapons, wearable technology and communications.

Capital, at times, is a problem. “We do feel sometimes handicapped by capital,” said Gupta, “but we have grown from small-to-medium to large”. Sooner or later, the company have plans to go public, he said, without giving a timeline.

SSS Defence

SSS Defence is a unit of Stumpp Schuele & Somappa Group, India’s largest maker of automotive and defence equipment springs founded 70 years ago.

The group set up a small arms unit three years ago. Ammunition was the focus area initially and had a joint venture with Brazil’s CBC, the world’s second-largest maker of ammunition, said Krishnan. That led it into small arms and the company has been investing in research, design and testing in the last three years, he said.

The company has so far invested close to $5.5-6 million and its small arms facility and testing range will come up by the end of this year and its ammunition unit will be ready by 2021.

SSS Defence’s assault rifles displayed at its pavilion in 11th Defence Expo in Lucknow

Ammunition manufacturing is in India and is dominated by public sector units, but private players can enter the market after complying with strict regulatory controls.

SSS Defence is now among 20 companies that own licence to make small arms in India and will be the second in India to have such a facility.

Punj Llyod Raksha, an erstwhile arm of Punj Llyod and now part of the Adani Group, is the other one. In partnership with Israel Weapon Industries, Punj Llyod Raksha could supply Galil sniper and Tavor assault rifles and Negev light machine gun to Indian Army, National Security Guards and Special Forces. Currently, it is procured directly from Israel.

Krishnan said SSS Defence has tested assault and sniper rifles outside India as getting ammunition in the country is difficult. The Indian Army is yet to test its sniper rifle.

SSS Defence targets the Asian region which does not have any major ammunition supplier, Krishnan said.

The government of India is never going to be the only customer for the company. “We would have not ventured into the business if that was the only premise, which is also the reason for investing in R&D,” he said. India may be the second-largest importer of arms, according to Krishnan, but that can’t be the only option to sustain operations.