AMONG all the policy initiatives and schemes launched by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), has perhaps had the most impact. Devised as a platform to help domestic defence manufacturing and innovation find its feet, IDEX was launched nine years ago with theidea that, over time, it would help India substitute foreign acquisition with domestic made-in products by tapping thevast reservoir of micro, small, and medium enterprises that already play a huge role in the defence sector. Thankfully, while embracing the MSMEs, it is not limited to them.
On May 15 this year, this flagship initiative of the MoD reached a milestone when the 250th contract was inked – it included the first one under the Mission DefSpace and the 100th (Supporting Pole-Vaulting in R&D through Innovations for Defence Excellence) SPRINT (Navy) contract. What is heartening is that most of the innovation is happening at the cutting-edge level. In other words, identifying issues and finding innovative original solutions to expand the efficiency of existing platforms or equipment and in many cases creating a completely new matrix with the innovation.
First iDEX contract
For example, the first iDEX contract of Mission Def Space (an ambitious effort to develop innovative solutions for the three Services (Indian Air Force, Navy and Army) in the space domain through the Indian industry and start-ups) was awarded to Inspe City one of the winners of the “micro propulsion system for Cube Sats” challenge, a mission being led by the Defence Space Agency. The MoD in a statement said: “Inspe City is developing a gas-based (compact micro propulsion) system. This technology, once developed, can be integrated with other satellites, including the Cube Sat swarm being developed under Mission Def Space.”
Cube Sats are a class of small satellites (smallsats) that are modular, and lowcost. Its greatest advantage is the speed at which it can be manufactured, integrated and launched – critical for equipment that requires satellites to have launch on-demand capabilities.The micro propulsion system will help these CubeSats by aligning them precisely for imagery surveillance communication and reconnaissance.
Genuine ideas, ability
In the five years since the inception of iDEX, the platform has received more than 7,500 applications from Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), individuals and start-ups. There is no doubt that iDEX has incubated innovation and provided genuine ideas and ability with matching funds to help bring the vision to the table. The humongous work being done in space and the domain of drones is likely to multiply manifold and not just as an import substitution model, but as a fantastic net export earner over time with the prowess that they have started bringing to the table.
While all this is happening, parallelly there has been an upgrade at another level. One of the outcomes of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (ICET), which was launched just around the time of the Prime Minister’s State Visit to the US in June, is Indus-X – a platform that will connect the dots and put startups, Government institutions, academia and industrialists together. Its first meeting was held on June 20.
Retired Diplomat Atul Keshap, President of USIBC (United States-India Business Council) that hosted the launch of the ICET in January, was quoted by the Hindustan Times: “Indus-X is a direct outgrowth of ICET. Both India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the US Department of Defence (DOD) have asked us to host a gathering of defence start-ups in both countries and companies in the incubator phase. Both countries want to encourage them to partner with each other. Both NSAs are deeply invested in Indus-X.”
That apart, iDEX has its own Manthan platform that brings together innovators, start-ups, micro, small and mediumsized enterprises (MSME), incubators, academia and investors from across the board under one roof. While innovation has happened and a versatile set of products has been brought forth and adopted and embraced by the armed forces, innovation and manufacturing have to move to the next level.
Observers believe that the idea of iDEX with a larger fund base must be created for big-ticket defence manufacturing projects and the Government must take the initiative to fund ‘proof of concept’ projects across the board if innovation has to move to the next level.
The sooner it is done the better for motivating innovation in manufacturing. What we need is an Indian version of the American DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) and a ten-year roadmap to create truly magical products.