Pinaka missile test in India 2020

View from India: Business is booming, with even the railways up for privatisation

Image credit: DRDO

We look forward to interesting times, led by successes in aerospace and transport. Electric mobility will gain momentum and passenger vehicles will be more sought after than before. As Asia’s third-largest economy, India is preparing for a new growth story.

Global think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) noted this year that India is now the world’s third largest military-defence spender, having moved up from fourth in ranking because of expenditure incurred to procure warships, submarines, aircraft and helicopters over a period of time.

Apart from defence investments, there have been many success stories of indigenous defence technologies. The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which is responsible for developing technology for the military, has declared the test flight of HSTDV as successful. An acronym for hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle, HSTDV has catapulted India into the elite league of countries like US, Russia and China. India has several such victorious test flights. Yet HSTDV stands out for its diverse applications. Its potency lies in its speed. HSDTV missiles can serve purposes in air defence, surveillance and reconnaissance, apart from facilitating energy-efficient, low cost and reusable satellite launch vehicles. In its statement, the DRDO described the achievement as historic.

Another DRDO-developed Pinaka missile has also undergone a successful flight test. This enhanced version of the Pinaka Mk-1 is a multi-barrel rocket-launcher (MBRL) system. Pinaka, named after Lord Shiva’s bow, can fire a salvo of 12 rockets in 44 seconds. It has a longer range performance compared to the previous variants.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the primary space agency of the Indian government, is all set to launch the country’s third Moon mission in 2021. So Chandrayaan-3 will include a lander and rover like Chandrayaan-2. However the difference lies in the fact that the upcoming Moon mission will not have an orbiter. This decision is supported by the logic that the orbiter of Chandrayaan-2 is functional and has served the purpose of capturing several images of the lunar surface and craters.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is producing 73 Advanced Light Helicopter (ALHs). A contracted effort, the production is expected to be completed by 2022 and will add to the existing fleet in the Army, Navy and Coast Guard. A world-class helicopter, ALH began production in 1992 and its design and performance has evolved since then.

A consortium of global agencies have come together to build the world’s largest radio telescope in a scientific endeavour that is among the largest of its kind. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA is so-called as it will be spread over a square kilometre or one million square metres of collecting area. Upon completion astronomers will monitor the sky in greater detail than ever before and at much higher speed.

India has a key role to play in this prestigious project. Tata Consultancy Services is designing and building the control systems of the mega project. The telescope manage is being stewarded by National Centre for Radio Astrophysics of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Scientific research comes from other organizations like Raman Research Institute, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, along with several Indian Institutes of Technology.

Space is all set to be a level playing field. IN-SPACe, an acronym for Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre, is the new entity that will pave the way for unexplored opportunities in space. With the approval of the Union Cabinet, IN-SPACe will open up the skies for private participation. Regulatory measures and supportive policies will help private companies tap Indian space infrastructure. This extends to space activities like building rockets and satellites, apart from providing launch services. The inter-planetary missions of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will also be thrown open to private players. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi tweeted, “The Union Cabinet’s approval to reforms in the space sector is yet another step towards making our nation self-reliant and technologically advanced. The reforms will boost private sector participation as well. This will not only result in an accelerated growth of this sector but will enable Indian Industry to be an important player in global space economy. With this, there is an opportunity for large-scale employment in the technology sector and India becoming a Global technology powerhouse.”

Boeing India has announced that its largest presence outside America, its home turf, will be India. It’s destination India for the American major. Over the next two years, Boeing India will strengthen its workforce as well as component sourcing. Investments will go towards enhancing production, supply chain management and innovations in aerospace technology. It is anticipated that Boeing India’s decision will encourage the growth of MSME’s in aerospace and avionics. 

Rolls-Royce, a leading aerospace and defence technology company, and Infosys, a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting have entered into a partnership. The partnership is to source engineering and R&D services for Rolls-Royce’s Civil Aerospace business. As part of the overall partnership, Rolls-Royce will transition a significant part of its engineering centre capabilities for Civil Aerospace in Bangalore to Infosys. Leveraging its expertise in core engineering services, digital transformation capabilities, and Rolls-Royce product knowledge acquired through the partnership, Infosys will provide a full range of high-end engineering and R&D services integrated with advanced digital service to Rolls-Royce.

When we look at the overall aviation industry in India, investments from and collaborations with global players have accelerated the growth of aerospace engineering, aviation technology, accelerator programmes as well as aerospace start-ups. 

Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal who started Pixxel, an Indian start-up have made news as the business has managed to raise seed funding to the tune of $5 million. The capital will be utilised for sending Earth-imaging satellites into space from India. Venture capital firms Lightspeed India and Blume Ventures have come forward to make this investment, which is the largest of its kind in the space sector. Agriculture and oil and gas firms in India and the US have an agreement to use Pixxel’s image data. Let’s hope more such tech start-ups come up with path-breaking technologies.

Belagavi in Karnataka is preparing to usher India's first miniature airport. Modelled along the lines of Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, the airport is positioned as a tourist attraction. It will showcase operations such as check-in, boarding, aircraft take-off, landing and parking. As part of the Smart City programme, Belagavi Smart City Ltd has tentatively identified land for the upcoming project.

Railways open for privatisation 

In another significant development, the government has announced that the Indian Railways (IR) is open for privatisation. The first batch of 12 private trains is expected to chug along the railway tracks by 2023. The fact that IR will be privatised makes it interesting. This will unfold channels for investments. As per media reports, around 23 companies have shown interest in privatisation. It would be nice if some of the unexplored routes are mapped out as investments pick up.

This year, rail connectivity has reached a milestone with historic achievements. PM Modi has announced various projects undertaken to improve rail connectivity as well as electrification in Bihar. Worth around Rs 3,000 crore, the projects are dedicated to the nation. Some of the positive outcomes of the inauguration of Kosi Mahasetu and Kiul Bridge would include the promotion of Make in India solutions for railways along with the creation of new jobs.

The railway journey continues with a multipurpose transport project planned in the state of Haryana. The Haryana Orbital Rail Corridor project is expected to facilitate affordable and faster commuter travel, as well as long-distance travel to different locations. Manipur in North-East India is gearing up to welcome a pier bridge which is supposed to be the tallest of its kind in the world. Being constructed across the River Ijai near Noney, the pier height will stand tall at 141 metres, while the length of the bridge will be 703 metres. The pier bridge will surpass the existing record of 139 metres of Mala-Rijeka viaduct, Montenegro in Europe. Hydraulic augers have been used for the piers of the bridge. Being tall, the piers required a slip-form technique to ensure efficient and continual construction. As a safety measure, ‘self-erecting’ electric lifts are being used at each pier.

Fresh revenue opportunities will arise from new routes of rail connectivity. Besides seamless connectivity, it will also de-congest the existing routes as well help in the development of multi-modal logistics hubs.

Road transport

The Atal Tunnel at Rohtang is another engineering marvel. Rohtang, the world’s highest-altitude tunnel, is a horseshoe-shaped, single tube double lane road tunnel. It has a roadway of eight metres with a fireproof emergency egress tunnel built into the main tunnel itself.

The tunnel has been designed to accommodate 3,000 cars a day and 1,500 trucks with maximum speed of 80km/h. It has an electromechanical system with a semi-transverse ventilation system. Rohtang is one of the highest passes in the Himalayas. So it’s natural that the tunnel has factored in geological, terrain and weather challenges. The tunnel is in honour of the contribution made by late PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are replacing the existing fleet of petrol-diesel vehicles used by the central and state governments. Automakers like Tata Motors and Hyundai Motor India are in the process of manufacturing 250 EVs for Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL). This is a joint venture of public sector undertaking companies under the administrative control of the Ministry of Power.

A growing concern for EV adoption has urged the industry and academia to come together. The outcome is an electric (e-bus) project. Hitachi ABB Power Grids in India (listed as ABB Power Products and Systems India Ltd), Ashok Leyland and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) have all signed an agreement for an e-bus. A collaborative effort, Ashok Leyland will provide the e-bus, Hitachi ABB Power Grids will localise the flash charging technology for India and the infrastructure required for the flash-charging system will come from IIT-M. But an e-bus has its own challenges. The charging infrastructure and running time need to be figured out.

Besides that, auto companies have rolled out many clean and green variants in the form of EVs. To that extent, investments continue in the auto segment. No doubt, EVs navigate the roads, yet their sales can ramp up when the charging infrastructure falls into place. Seen futuristically, the domestic production of battery cells is also expected to drive in volume sales.

Taxi aggregator Ola is preparing to be a vehicle manufacturer. Its founders Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati have shared their plans with the media. Ola is in talks with state governments. The company plans to build an e-scooter facility across 100 acres of land.

The personal mobility space has wooed potential buyers during Covid. Second-hand cars and two-wheelers are a thriving market. Showroom models of two-wheelers and passenger vehicles (PVs) have generated sales as consumers prefer their own vehicle to commuting in public transport. Leading automaker Tata Motors has achieved a milestone. The company has completed the production of four million passenger vehicles (PV).

Meanwhile Royal Enfield has launched a personalisation service titled Make-It-Yours (MIY) for its motorcycles. This application and website-based configurator enables bikers to personalise their motorcycles when they make the purchase. Imagination knows no bounds as options come in the form of colourways, trims and graphics, along with motorcycle accessories. Royal Enfield has been making motorcycles since 1901 and is now owned by the Eicher Group.

Pandemic-driven innovations will continue and many existing solutions and operations will undergo a disruption. Things will change.

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