LUCKNOW: As Bangalore hosts the 11th Aero India, a showcase of international defence and civil aerospace, aviation is the flavour of the season. Asia’s premier air show from 14-18 February will have a record 750 companies participating and delegations from 109 countries are expected. A key participant with one of the largest stall is India’s Navratna Company Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL). Defence is the key focus area for Prime Minister Modi’s Make-In-India drive. BEL had a record turnover of Rs 7,510 crore in 2015-16 and has estimated order book of around Rs 3000 Crore and is India’s key defence player.

Set up in 1954 in association with CSF, France (now Thales), BEL’s Areas of specialization today are Radars, Weapon systems, communication, Electronic Warfare, Network Centric systems etc. BEL also provides turnkey system solutions. Civilian products from BEL include Electronic Voting Machines, Tablet PC, solar-powered traffic signal systems and Access Control Systems. Its nine units are spread across the country and have overseas offices in New York and Singapore. BEL works closely with DRDO. Indian Armed Forces are using some very successful BEL products which include Weapon Locating Radars, Battlefield Surveillance Radars, Samyukta Electronic Warfare systems, 3D-CAR radars, Reporter radars, electro-optical systems, Akash missile system, Naval sonar, secure communication systems, Fire-control systems, Electronic warfare systems, Simulators, Tank electronics, IAF’s integrated command and control system, IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) and VHF radios.

To push privatization BEL has developed over 750 private vendors. Significant numbers are from among the MSMEs. Approach has been collaborative. BEL Optronic Devices Ltd. is a subsidiary company to develop and manufacture Image Intensifiers. BEL has many Joint ventures. BEL Thales Limited with Thales of France makes avionics. GE-BE Pvt Limited with General Electric for medical systems including advanced X-ray tubes and CT systems. BEL and Multitone of UK offer mobile communication products for the workplace. BEL’s Space Electronic Division supports India’s satellite program. BEL has made the Data Link II and other communications for the Indian Navy’s Boeing P-8I Neptune. BEL makes entire range of C4ISR capabilities including network centric warfare technologies. BEL is the lead integrator of Akash indigenous guided missile air defence weapon system. The company is in the process of joining with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) to set up a joint venture to make solar photovoltaic components. BEL has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Textron Systems to provide micro-observer unattended ground sensor (UGS) systems to the Indian security agencies.

A giant like BEL has great potential. The current customers of BEL comprise the Indian armed forces, paramilitary, police, Coast Guards of India, Seychelles, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Doordarshan, All India Radio, and Department of Telecommunications. The present approach is to make lower end avionics, including a few under license production. Practically all customers are government departments. India has great software and engineering base and has a very successful space and missile program. The capabilities exist; larger allocations for R&D are required. India is the largest importer of arms. India needs to leverage this to acquire high end technologies as part of the package. More joint ventures with foreign firms will push Make-in-India. South East Asia is great potential market which looks up to India with strategic and technological respect. By now BEL should have aggressively marketed the EVMs to many democracies. BEL is already a listed company, but the company has typical government bureaucratic structure with Ministry of Defence Babu control. This needs to change to exploit potential. There is a proposal for more divestment. Privatization will help aggressive development and marketing. Marketing is a weak area. BEL needs international partners for this. BEL is one of the most respected and successful Navratna. I’ts all aviation/military grade products are of international class. It has huge cost advantage. Both these are waiting to be harnessed.