A Bengaluru-based defence startup said it has developed the country's first indigenous sniper rifle prototypes, boosting hopes of reviving the government’s struggling Make in India initiative at least in the small arms segment.
Three-year-old SSS Defence said it built India’s first indigenously designed and developed two advanced sniper platforms, chambered for cartridges of two sizes (.308/7.62x51mm and.338 diameters). SSS Defence also made an assault rifle on the 7.62x39 mm caliber and a close quarter battle carbine platform.
Vivek Krishnan, chief executive officer (CEO) of SSS Defence, told
CNBCTV18.com, that the entire design of the rifle is Indian. “We have applied a lot of cross functional disciplines — chemical engineering in coatings, metallurgy, industrial design, anthropometrics, aerospace engineering — in the process of design and testing,” he said, adding that the entire range will be made in India.
SSS Defence’s breakthrough in the small arms space is one of the rare triumphs for an Indian company in a sector that has long relied on foreign forces for weapons technology and manufacture.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made serious attempts to wean the country off imported arms — India is one of the world’s largest weapons buyers — but the push has been fledgling more than five years later.
Unrealistic demands from India’s military and its reluctance to buy from Indian companies new to defence manufacturing have often been cited as reasons for Make in India’s struggles.
Ajay Gupta, Director, SRG Techno, which counts the military and special forces as its clients, said while several private sector players and their foreign partners have signed MoUs to manufacture small arms in India, the fact remains that no company has so far been able to build a full-fledged state-of-the-art production facility.
“It still essentially remains a play for the government and its public sector units given their product requirements and order size. The cost involved is also huge from any start-up’s point of view,” he said.
SSS Defence’s breakthrough could potentially show the way for other Indian companies in a sector dominated by government-run companies. The government’s support has helped in pushing joint ventures with foreign collaborations, off-set deals and some level of technology transfer.
SSS Defence is one of the few beneficiaries of such partnerships. It has tied up with Companhis Brasileira de Cartuchos (CBC), the world's second largest ammunition producer with a presence in over 130 countries for ammunition production and is collaborating on many technical fronts with the Brazilian firm for the better part of the past two years.
Early in its journey, SSS Defence tried collaborations with foreign firms to seek technology transfer for small arms, but gave up the idea on account of regulations and restrictions, particularly ITAR.
“We did indeed explore collaborations to seek technology transfer for small arms, early in our growth stage. However, the level of indigenous production that we wanted to undertake was always going to face limitations on account of ITAR,” Krishnan said.
The ITAR is a US government regulatory regime that strictly enforces controls on technology transfers in the area of defence products.
Except barrel for logistical reasons, SSS Defence designed and manufactured the rifle on its own.
“We are presently working on also putting up a barrel manufacturing set up for precision rifles and hope to be self-sufficient in terms of 100 percent of manufacturing cost and content by 2022,” Krishnan added.
Krishnan is sanguine about Make in India, given the leap by his company.
“We have the industrial licence today, to manufacture both small arms and ammunition in India. We plan to be the only Indian private sector company to have operations commencing in both areas by the end of this year,” he said.
SSS Defence said a small arms unit will shortly start operations in Bengaluru and an ammunition plant will be commissioned in 2021 from Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh.
The reluctance of Indian companies to bid for arms deals is also changing, according to Krishnan. “We are seeing more Make in India bids,” he said.“We are starting to see much more support coming in from the government.”