Kalyani Strategic Systems, the defence arm of Bharat Forge is aiming to be the leading Indian OEM of the world in Defence & Aerospace. KSSL is developing an entire range of field Artillery for Army: Bharat 52/ 45, Garuda 105 and ATAGS with DRDO. Fact that in decades, Indian Army could only acquire M777 howitzer into its Artillery, reflects how heavy our defence import has been — a dereliction in addressing the huge technological gaps. In an exclusive interaction, Baba Kalyani speaks with Manish Kumar Jha of BW Businessworld on his boldest steps and efforts, where he is striving to build indigenous capabilities for Indian Armed Forces. He also puts forth his vision for the critical advance technology in the areas of complex materials and structure for the engine & propulsion system.

Baba Kalyani, CMD, Bharat Forge is aiming to establish Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd (KSSL) as a leading Indian OEM of the world in Defence & Aerospace. Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd (KSSL), the defence arm of Bharat Forge is developing an entire range of field Artillery for Army: Bharat 52/ 45, Garuda 105 and ATAGS with DRDO. Fact that in decades, Indian Army could only acquire UK's BAE System M777 howitzer into its Artillery, reflects how heavy our defence import has been — a dereliction in addressing the huge technological gaps. Army's Artillery Rationalisation Programme (FARP) for ~3000 155 howitzers calls for breakthrough after OFB/DRDO just kept delaying. Until the Kargil War, when we woke with sleeping Bofors only to realize the missing ammunition for the unremitting war over the frozen mountain. It was realized that no amount of ‘strategic deliberation’ will be effective if we simply don’t have the capability to make our own guns. The so called—small arms—is no small feat either as it is the fountainhead of military might of more than a million strong men in uniform. When the realization came and Government opened the door for its own industry—the private industry – while still holding the ‘state control over the defence’, it burst with immense possibilities. Domestic industry infused the flow of technology with staggering efficiency based on modern machine, smart assembly line and injecting new age tools like AI and Machine Learning.

Bharat Forge takes that up and as government put more faith in their capability. And the man who laid the robust foundation in Metallurgy in India that forms the bedrock of military hardware, Bharat Forge’s CMD Baba Kalyani speaks with Manish Kumar Jha of BW Businessworld on such issues.

He speaks with Manish Kumar Jha on his boldest steps and efforts, where he is striving to build indigenous capabilities for Indian Armed Forces. He also puts forth his vision for the critical advance technology based on his acclaimed know- how in metallurgy and that is the coveted area for advanced materials and complex structure for the aero engine & propulsion system. He says: “Our level of expertise in this area is extremely high, even on a global basis. So I think it's a very natural, position that you start looking at this, and you look at artillery gun.” From there he touches upon the complexity of aero engine which is basically full of forgings and full of metal, says: “Except that from steel now you're going to titanium to a nickel-based alloy because you have to deal with temperatures of a 1000- 1100 degrees.”

But on fundamental, it is the story of the indigenous effort for developing a howitzer that Indian Army is asking for long. The advanced towed artillery guns system (ATAGS) a 155 mm/52 calibre gun system designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), that is on priority and going through trails under the extreme General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR). On the very first, ATAGS set to be the most advanced and the first gun in the world which has the capability to fire BMCS zone 7. And on the high altitude trials in Sikkim, the ATAGS created a new record as it fired at 13,000+ feet height and successfully completed 500+ km in treacherous high-altitude terrain up to 15,400 feet; proved extreme mobility in the narrow mountain curves. While it did have some setback in the last trail in the Pokhran under 50 degree+ temp, it sums up the determination and herculean effort towards indigenization that such calibre of next generation of military equipment requires.

So, when do you expect this advanced towed artillery guns system (ATAGS) to be inducted by the Indian Army as I posed this to Baba Kalyani? “I think, I hope this year. I'm expecting not only the ATAGS to be inducted but our Garuda gets inducted. I'm also hoping that Light weapon gets inducted,” he says with confidence that reflects his impeccable work in the complex field of metallurgy. With DRDO: He also talks about R&D and collaboration with DRDO in terms of participation in the artillery field program and along a couple of other complex program. How does it work?

Manish K. Jha: For decades, India Army has been looking at robust artillery system. You thought of bringing your critical experience in metallurgy into building artillery guns. But, Defence is about heavy investment and much longer acquisition process. What inspired you to plunge in and make it the core of your vision?

Baba Kalyani: Everything that you do has to have make business sense. So that's a normal process. For us being in the defence sector is not something new. You know, we have been in the defence sector from the day I started working in 1972. Except in those days, private sectors' participation in the defence sector was largely confined from sub supplier to ordnance factories. So we made raw components or sometimes finished components for ordnance factories but it was at a component level, it was not about making systems or making platforms. So in the seventies, for example, we used to make 81 millimetre mortars that was very popular with the Indian army at that time. In the 80s we started making larger mortars, 120 millimetre, started making shells 105, 120 and 130 millimetre and later on in the 90s when the Kargil operation started, India ran out of ammunition for the artillery guns of Bofors, which was 155 millimetre. So, we got an emergency request from the MOD to make ammunition. The definition of ammunition at that time was ready-to-fill-shell because no private sector company was allowed to be in the exclusive business to fill explosives. Nobody had licenses to do that. So we did the metal parts finished machine. They're ready for the fuse to go in it where you fill the explosives, threaded the fuse and the shell was ready to fire. So we did a lot of that.

“It’s not that we've not been in defence. We’ve been in defence for a long period of time. And the basic reason for this is defence by and large, at least in this area of defence land systems, artillery guns, smaller arms, armoured vehicle and to some extent, aircraft is largely dependent on very high metallurgical skills and metallurgical components, which is our area of expertise has been, and still is.”

Now our level of expertise in this area is extremely high, even on a global basis. So I think it's a very natural, position that you start looking at this, and you look at artillery gun. What is the main parts of an artillery gun? It's the gun barrel, the breech, the recoil system and the muzzle. Rest of it is just fabrication. Then there's the control system, which is a lot of electronics control system, etc. So we make our own barrels. And that's the most difficult part in an artillery is to make barrels. We make our own barrels. We have a huge capacity and two production lines. We make our own breech, we make our own recoil systems, and we make our own muzzle brakes. Now we make our own electronic control systems that go into this. We have a lot of sub supplies, who we work with, but they're all local. Now, if you don't make these things and you still say, you make artillery guns it's meaningless.

“And we make things I mean the ATAGS gun is of course designed by the DRDO. So we work with DRDO on that but there are another five platform that we have designed on our own with our own technology, and our own intellectual property. And I don't think there is a company in India who has done this. Not a single one.”

Manish K. Jha: You have a great foundation in Metallurgy. Your skills and expertise in metallurgy give you an extension and a progression into the defence. But again, in defence, there a single end user – the armed forces. It’s a difficult proposition which requires a huge investment first, then you wait for the order. How difficult for you to enter into big advanced artillery kind of machine, which indeed required a long gestation period of trials and rigorous efforts?

Baba Kalyani: Actually, if you look at the ATAGS program, this was a program that was, generated by DRDO, The basic design is from the DRDO, and they chose production partners. And this program should have been over a long time ago because our problem in India largely is-- it takes just too long a time.

For testing, having test facilities available, although as facilities are available to private sector now for the last few years, but there is always a queue because there are not enough test facilities. You need to have almost double or triple test ranges.

But when you're designing a gun and you're making something, you make an improvement then you need to see how it works. So you need to be able to test fire, but you can't wait for one year to go and fire, then it takes a longer time. But in spite of this, I think we have made good progress. I think we should now see very quickly the induction of this gun in the Indian Army. In the meantime, we have designed three more platforms. One platform has been tested for almost close to a four to six months in the Northern and Eastern areas in the mountains, which is our, what we call as Garuda, it's a very unique technology. It's a 3 ton 105 field gun. Now, this is the capability that we have and it's been fired, it's been tested even on the vehicle on which this gun sits. So we not only design the gun, we can design the vehicle. We can do all this thing.

“And this is, if you look at advance countries you look at the United States, you look at Europe, Germany, and France. I mean, this is how things happen in those countries. And this is exactly where India is moving and thanks to the prime minister's push on Atmanirbhar Bharat and push on make-in India that we are now getting the critical mass that is required in our defence ecosystem.”

Manish K. Jha: You said, you have been focusing on the lighter infantry field artillery platforms. What is your priority areas among all of these? As we are aware of the fact that trials are so rigorous for you to go through and it is a costly affair too? How painful has been the journey?

Baba Kalyani: Well, first of all, I don't think it's painful. We have fired almost 2800 rounds. I don't think anybody fires that many rounds for it to go through. But with that experience, when we fielded our 105 light gun mounted on a vehicle, we fired only 60 rounds. Of course, if you go to through further trials, but we were able to prove that everything works exactly the way it should work. So, I think it's also a learning curve. It's also an experience when you do anything for the first time. Anybody in the world, no matter what you're making -- a car or an aircraft-- you're bound to have some teething troubles. But anyway, the second one you learn from the first, you make the third one, you learn from the first two. So, we made ultralight gun and that fired extremely well.

I say 155/39 calibre and at a very, very competitive costs. And we have now made a truck mounted MGS with 15539. So we have done the initial profiling on that. That's not enough for testing. We still have to do a lot of tests on that, but performance is excellent. I believe if you see the videos of that firing and the truck doesn't even move. And if you see the videos of some other guns in firing that gun and jumping eight feet. So I think there's a lot of good engineering that we are able to bring in into the system. We of course use a lot of our capabilities in simulation. If we have, we are able to do computer simulations from many of these things. So we know how the sub systems will behave, how they will work.

And fortunately, for us in this COVID period, the one thing happened was, earlier we were dependent on electronics and electronic controls from outside.

“In most Indian defence platform, usually the electronic is all coming from outside, but in our case, we earlier had electronics coming from outside. But in this COVID period we were able to develop everything here. So now it's a 100% indigenous gun. And the advantage of this is, now, we can keep making it. This is, let's say over Mach I, Mach II will be even a greater performance. We are expecting this gun fires 48 kilometres.”

If you put a rocket propulsion, ammunition on it, it will go 70 kilometres. Okay. Now we can make the 52 calibre to 58 calibre, but you'll be, I think our Mach 2 or Mach 3 program and then to a 62 calibre. Will go pretty much to 90, to a 100 kilometres in five years. And this capability apart from one or two countries in the world, nobody else has.

Manish K. Jha: So when you do you expect this advanced towed artillery guns system (ATAGS) to be inducted by the Indian Army?

Baba Kalyani: “I think, I hope this year. I'm expecting not only the ATAGS to be inducted. I'm also hoping that our Garuda gets inducted. I'm also hoping that pro light weapon gets inducted.”

Timings, maybe different, but I think at some point in time, the system will realize that here's a company that has the capability and the maturity to design, develop and produce an indigenous product, a real Atmanirbhar product and not dependent on anybody else.

Manish K. Jha: Let’s talk about the policy part in the context of private domestic OEMs. Government has also recently announced the 5 key areas under the Make I program. How do you look at such initiatives and why not you become part of that for next generation artillery projects?

Baba Kalyani: Gun program cannot be ‘make one’, we've already developed it. Make one programs are to develop something completely new. So if you look at the make one program. The five programs are were announced yesterday. There were, I think there were three programs for the air force. There were two programs for the army. One of them was based on cyber security and one program, which is of our interest, is it light tank that's, again, metal, you know, has a gun and all those kinds of things.

Manish K. Jha: What is your thought on the light tank? On the fact that your foundation is so strong in this area and again, it is an extension. Indian Army has let out a RFI and Light tank is such an urgency for the mountain corps division.

Baba Kalyani: Just wait for a year. You will see a light tank coming out of our workshops

Manish K. Jha: What about the design?

Baba Kalyani: We're already working on it.

Manish K. Jha: Please do elaborate more in terms of weight issue in the RFI which is 25 tonnes, a stringent requirement and the firepower that nobody in the world has been done so far.

Baba Kalyani: Nowhere in the world has anybody made a 105 artillery gun with 900 kg. Nowhere in the world! All the 105 artillery guns in the world are 3 tons (3000 Kg). 105 is the smallest gun and the Indian army has almost 2000 guns that was the old British field gun. Out of the mainstay of artillery in the old days, then came the 130 millimetre, which the Russians got in that calibre. And then the NATO came up with the 155 calibre, which has now become a pretty standard calibre.

If we can design a gun, which is 3 tons all over the world to 900 kilograms, you think we can't design a tank, which is 50 tons to 25 tons.

Manish K Jha: In the Indian Army, we need a multiple combat platforms-- like light tank, light armoured vehicle and Anti-tank Guided Missile Vehicle (ATGM), and NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV). It is something very similar to what US Army a Stryker Combat Vehicle has built on a common chassis and are cost effective? Are you proposing something?

Baba Kalyani: So we proposed light armoured vehicle during the Galwan crisis, they wanted a vehicle that can go to 18,000 ft.

They couldn't find a vehicle in India that will go at 18,000 feet and perform our M4 did, a fully indigenous vehicle designed and produced here and not we have the order. We are making it for the Indian army.

Manish K. Jha: So how did you manage to do so quickly? It does take a long time.

Baba Kalyani: We have 2000 engineers in this company; 60 years of experience. So much of networking, plus you have these huge DRDO labs. I mean, this nation has technical and scientific orientation. And if you're look at our ultra-light artillery, our 155/39, steel, we have got in two one like the M 777 titanium and M 777 took 46 crores per gun.

Manish K. Jha: Let’s talk about R&D and your collaboration with DRDO in terms of your participation in the artillery field program and along a couple of other complex program. How does it work? So far, the DRDO is more keen to the transfer of technology to industry then on the collaboration at development stage? What are the bottlenecks here?

Baba Kalyani: The way it used to work in the past as the DRDO's production partner was only ordinance factory and defence PSUs. There was hardly a private sector participant. I think the only program--a large size program where there was a private sector participation was Pinaka rocket program. 10 years ago, that was the only one where private sector was involved. It was only for the DPSUs and ordnance factories and things like artillery, small arms. Now, you know, ordnance factories at one time were great, but I think over a period of time, we all know what has happened to them. Now, hopefully with this reorganization of ordinance factory, they will come back to life again in some form or the other, but the change in direction in DRDO now is that DRDO is not a fundamental research organization. Fundamental research happens in academic institutions and science institutes.

“DRDO is applied research organization. They take fundamental research and then they apply it in creating products. But their biggest problem or bottleneck was that they were not able to create products of world-class quality because their production partners didn't have the ability to do that. Now with private sector getting in, and not only Bharat Forge, there are many other companies that DRDO works with. DRDO probably works with more than 200 private companies. They have now production partners, which can make world-class products.”

And that is the big advantage. So what is DRDO doing? DRDO is doing the basic design. Okay. They don't do every detail like board and produce some 10,000 drawings of every component. They give you an envelope design.

The conceptual design is done by DRDO. And whoever is the production partner in case of ATAGS, it is the Tata and us, we start making the product based on their design. But it is not that Tata product is exactly the same as our project. They use their own engineering knowledge. The way they think is right. We use our own engineering knowledge, but the performance, what is important is the performance characteristics have to be the same. Now this is a very, very good approach because with this approach, you have the best of both worlds. You have the best of industry capability. The best of applied research capability of DRDO.

And actually now DRDO has gone one step further. They have also started working with other laboratories of the government of India, like CSI and also academic institutions, IITs and all that kind of institutes. With that, I think they are making much more rapid progress from what they were making before. And every nation in the world has its own DRDO okay. France has its own. Germany has its own U.S. development known DARPA is there. England used to have under MOD earlier like ours. But when the privatization happened during PM Thatcher's time, the British, DRDO was given to a university named Cranfield University. So Cranfield University now houses, the British defence DRDO organization. And I think they have now they have spread it even further that you know, the land system is one area. So, this is how it's going all over the world.

Manish K. Jha: This is a sole agency of the government of India which is opening to OEMs like yours. Did you get to test your equipment there? You have to buy simulator from somewhere. So, how does it work with DRDO?

Baba Kalyani: Very well. Extremely well. Any research applied research organization has two things. They have a lot of scientific based data, a whole library of data with them, and they have people who are experts in each area of the product that you're making. Now let's take a gun, for example, not people think artillery gun is simple. The most difficult part of an artillery gun is barrel and breech. So you can make a gun without making the barrel and breech that is the only fabrication that even if you go outside this factory, I can get that made with a fabricator.

Why barrel and breech are important? Because the amount of calculations that go into creating you know, the whole pressure, the ballistics data, the strength of material data and all those kinds of things is humongous. Believe me, it's very, very large. And it requires a lot of experts who have knowledge in this area. In the old days, everything used to have formulas, I mean, some of them are the old formulas now. And in the new age, a lot of formulas, got replaced with simulations, but even to do a computer simulation, you required a lot of knowledge. And that knowledge, no foreigner is ever going to give you for sure. And that is why DRDO is extremely important. It's important for national security, it’s important for industry to develop natural capability.

Manish K. Jha: So, so you have achieved such a complex advancement in metallurgy. And the question that always comes to mind, where is the advanced material capability? Where is the capability for such complex mix of metals to sustain the extreme heat as part of the propulsion system and where is the material for the blade? What is your take on this?

Baba Kalyani: Everything is available. So you've now moved from artillery to engines. So we'll talk about engines. Engine is the highest level of technology that is required. Now let's talk about aero engine. First of all, if you look at the Aero engine again, it's all full of forgings and full of metal, except that from steel now you're going to titanium to a nickel-based alloy because you have to deal with temperatures of a 1000- 1100 degrees. Whereas in artillery, I don't have to deal with a 1000 - 1100 degrees. My instantaneous temperature when I fire a shell, maybe 3000 degrees, but that's for microseconds. The aero engine is constantly at 1100 degrees. So you need all these materials. Now, what we have done in this country, we have created one material, research lab, which is DMRO. I think they do a good job. They have very good metallurgical engineers and we have one DPUSU who will make the components for this. That is called MIDHANI. Who will make the metal? Now our problem is we are so short-sighted that for 15 years.

“We, as a company- Bharat Forge has been telling the government of India that you have this whole titanium ore on the Eastern coast, right from Andhra to Kerala it is called ilmenite. And if you give this ore to an Indian private sector guy, we will set up a plant. Actually, I’ve given this proposal five times now. We will set up a plant where we will convert.”

I mean, they had a purification process called beneficiation, you need to beneficiate the ore then you need to separate the ore, then you need to convert it to sponge by melting titanium sponge and the titanium sponge has to be re-melted, double melted or triple melted to create that in ingots then titanium, and have to be forged down to create titanium pellets from each of them made turbine blades and turbine shafts and all those kinds of things.

The largest producer of titanium, which is the base material for all the air crafts made in Russia. There are only two companies in the world that control titanium. One is in Russia. It's VSMPO. The whole world depends on it, including Boeing, Airbus, everybody; for fighter jets for commercial jet. And the second is in Canada. We are supplying ore titanium ore to VSMPO for some amount of money. And we are buying a thousand times the titanium.

Manish K. Jha: This is an important development. Could you talk about your collaboration in making components for the aero engine?

Baba Kalyani: No, we make for Rolls Royce, UK. We make engine components. You should see our engine. We have got an aero engine manufacturing facility here. High nickel-- same is the case with high nickel components. The titanium is in the front part. The hard part is all high nickel components. We don't have a nickel mines so we are all dependent on important nickel. And that's a problem. You know, we have not paid attention to our supply chain. We are not paid attention to what is required, what is important. And the technical part of all this comes to high temperature blades and it has to be made from a single crystal. A single crystal is a very complex metallurgical technology.

“There are very few companies in the world who have developed single crystal technology. Now the Russians apparently have given us that TOT for single crystal technology. When they gave us the Sukhois. But even today we can't make it. So this is like getting the Bofors technology for artillery gun 1984 and we are in 2022 and we still haven't been able to make it.”

Manish K. Jha: Kalyani defence and also Bharat Forge, of course, as a parent company, you have been forging a lot of collaboration with key foreign OEMs of the world. What are the objectives? What are the technologies you get out of such collaborations in defence and Aerospace?

Baba Kalyani: I mean, first of all, we have, two collaborations in our defence sector. Not more than that. And honestly, we are still at a very nascent stage of this, the real challenge with technology partners and collaborations from outside.

“Whether it's Israel, whether it's France whether it's US, you know, nobody is willing to give you the, technology, the real technology. They are only willing to give you peripheral technology. And we have a lot of discussions on this with our partners, trying to make them understand that this will not work.

For 40 years, India has been making TOT agreements with many companies. I mean, mainly the Indian government with and DPSUs and all that. Today, we should have had a fantastic defence industry. How come we are still importing 70 percent?”

Manish K. Jha: What about the exports?

Baba Kalyani: We are seeing tremendous interest in ATAGS, tremendous interest in Garuda tremendous interest in. TC 20, we have yet to name that gun. We'll properly give it a name but those two are mounted on vehicles. One is a big one, 1 55 calibre, 39. We can make it to a 52 calibre. Other one is the 105 Garuda. And of course ATAGS.

So the way, we see our sweet spot. We want to be the largest artillery player on this planet in 10 years’ time.