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INTERACTION WITH SH. SARTAJ SINGH, DIRECTOR (DEFENCE) SOLAR GROUP

Solar Group of Companies with its parent company 'Solar Industries India Limited' (SIIL) and its wholly owned subsidiary 'Economic Explosives Limited' (EEL) are the largest manufacturer and exporter of Industrial Explosives and Initiating Systems in the Country. Based in Nagpur, SIIL is listed on BSE & NSE with market capitalization of about Rs. 10,000 Crores. Solar exports Industrial Explosives to over 35 countries and have also set up manufacturing facilities in Nigeria, Zambia, Turkey and South Africa. Another Plant is coming up in Australia. Solar products are CE certified for export to European market.

With their wide experience in handling explosive substances and energetic materials, they have created notable infrastructure and facilities to manufacture critical High Energy Materials and Ammunitions required by the Defence and Para Military Forces.

Solar is the first company in the private sector to foray in High Energy Materials for Defence Ammunition and a leader in manufacturing of Military Explosives for anti-tank ammunition, Rockets and Missiles like Pinaka, Akash, LR Sam, Invar and Konkur.

It also manufactures Propellants for Akash, LRSAM, Pinaka Rocket and Brahmos missile. With the existing facilities for integration of Rockets, Mines, Grenades and Warhead Filling of Fuzes and Ammunition - the group is geared up as an alternative to Public Sector Factories engaged in Ammunition production.

Defence ProAc interacted with Sh. Sartaj Singh Director (defence), Solar Group. Excerpts___

Defence ProAc (DPA): The recent MoD Revenue stream RFP on Ammunition opens up a new arena for private sector participation. What is your assessment on the Indian industry capability to take up the challenge?

Sartaj: As seen from the response of the Indian industries to the eight RFPs issued by MOD for procurement of Ammunition, it could be summarized that the Indian Industries are quite upbeat about establishing facilities for Ammunition production in the country. AHQ has given a time period of two years to set up facilities to indigenise production and another two years with stated penalties. We are confident that given the infrastructure already available in the country, the industries will tie up with foreign OEMs/DRDO and numerous MSMEs to fill up the gaps and accelerate indigenisation.

Solar on its part has offered its Ammunition filling facilities to many of the leading industries and we will fill up this gap effectively. We are also open to participate in off-set programs. We are open and would welcome any industry approaching us for support in Ammunition filling.

DPA: The Company has been exporting commercial explosives to other countries, what could be the growth potential?

Sartaj: We export to about 23 countries directly and more than 45 countries use our products. Our products are CE certified for export to Europe. We also have our operations in Nigeria, Zambia, South Africa and Turkey,. Plants in Australia are under commissioning.

Now we have planned to set up facilities in another three to four countries by the year 2020. We see a potential growth of more than 20% on annual basis for the next five years at least.

DPA: India has been buying ammunition majorly from abroad, what are your views and how the issue can be addressed?

Sartaj: The hollowness of Ammunition has been perpetually faced by the Armed Forces for critical Ammunition. The first line and second line stocks have always been low. Continuous dependence on the public sector companies has been the main factor. The public sector companies are protected and receive Indents by nomination and do not face competition in terms of prices and quality. They have an old infrastructure with low productivity and produce same ammunition for many decades without much innovation, though there are few bright spots here and there.

The GOI needs to open up defence production to the private sector on a level playing field and should encourage the introduction of state of art 'Smart and Insensitive Ammunition'.

DPA: What all are the existing product portfolios available with Solar Industries India Ltd for defence sector?

Sartaj: Variety of Propellant Grains and Propulsion Systems have been established and are supplied to DRDO and DPSUs like BDL. For example; Akash Booster is being supplied to BDL. Production of Propellants for Brahmos and LRSAM are in the pipeline.

RTRS (Rail Track Rocket System); a propulsion system is a regular supply item to DRDO (TBRL).

Solar has set up facilities for filling of all kinds of War Heads through three different technological routes i.e. 'Melt & Cast', 'Cast & Cure' and 'Fill & Press'. For BDL, explosive filled War Heads have been developed and tested for regular supply.

Filling of Electronic Fuzes for Artillery Fuzes is already being done on a regular basis. Facilities for complete integration of Rockets are in place.

Production of variety of Hand Grenades, Rockets, AT Mines etc. has been taken up for TOT absorption.

DPA: The Company has a unique advantage and is likely to be the main bidder in recent defence Ammunition tender. Which product is being offered?

Sartaj: We are in contact with some of the foreign OEMs to obtain TOT. We will shortly finalise the products for bidding. Besides we are in contact with numerous foreign OEMs and Indian Industries who are keen to work closely with us for filling of Ammunition.

DPA: Is the company engaged in research and development activities related to defence sector and how much is the contribution?

Sartaj: Our R&D set up is quite vibrant. TOTs from DRDO and foreign OEMs are absorbed through our R&D team. Absorption of TOT especially for production of Composite Propellants is carried out through our R&D set up. New automated facilities for production of explosive items are done with the help of our R&D team. R&D Lab has state of art testing facilities and it helps us in preparing new formulations for Explosives. We have a facility for Static Testing of Propulsion system with a capacity of 20 MT. Our 6 MeV automated digital X-Ray facility is unique in the country.

DPA: What are the expansion plans of the company related to defence products? Can you provide details on the ToT with DRDO/ OEMs that company is planning to enter?

Sartaj: We have received various TOTs from DRDO for production of Propellant Boosters such as Akash and Brahmos Propellants, Propulsion Systems, Rockets, Mines, Hand Grenades etc. In order to absorb product related TOTs, infrastructure facilities are being added on continuous basis. However the basic facilities as explained above are already operational.

In respect of RFPs issued by MOD, we are in discussion with various foreign OEMs and Indian industrial houses. Depending on the result of competition and our successful tie-ups, we will indigenise the products with focus on Explosives, Propellants, Pyros and assembly/integration of Ammunition.

 

DPA: Can you brief about the company's infrastructure and installation and its expansion plans?

Sartaj: In respect of defence products, the company has set up facilities for production and filling of High Energy materials for production of War Heads, Mines, Air Bombs, Artillery Shells and Torpedoes etc. Facilities for production of Composite Propellants such as Akash, Brahmos, LRSAM and Propulsion Systems are already functional. Complete facilities for integration of Missiles and Rockets are in place. Filling of Electronic Fuzes has been in regular production.

Now we have planned to set up facilities for production of Single Base propellant for medium caliber Ammunition. We are deliberating the setting up of facilities for production of NG based Propellants for BMCS Modules for 155mm caliber Gun. However it is a matter of concern that the requirement of BMCS Modules as per the current RFP is only 1 lakh modules per annum which does not justify huge investment needed for setting up the facilities for production of NG based Propellants such as Double Base Propellant and Triple Base Propellant.

DPA: How you visualize the Indian explosive market both civil and military in the coming years?

Sartaj: We have set up the state of art facilities and as known to us; the world's largest facility to produce high energy materials. There is a large demand from all over the world from Defence Establishments. We are on a trajectory to become one of the largest exporters of these explosive and we expect continuous growth as we produce high quality materials and the market will respond accordingly.

DPA: What according to your views, government should do to promote indigenization?

Sartaj: The Government needs to support the defence industry in the private sector on long term basis on a level playing field which is open to all including the public sector companies for true discovery of prices and quality. On several occasions, Hon'ble PM has promoted series of enabling provisions in support of 'Make in India' policy to provide a level playing field to all  Public Sector, Import Partners and Domestic Private Industry. Hon'ble PM had stated that we talk in terms of national capacities.

Self-Certification in line with the procedure adopted for acceptance of products supplied by foreign OEMs should be adopted. Up gradation of the existing products should be made open to all including the private sector.

At present, there are numerous agencies involved in granting permission for export. In order to sustain the defence industry through exports, the government should have a policy for time bound approvals to grant export permission. It will help in creating an image for the Indian industry which likes to meet its delivery schedules.

Thank you so much for taking-out time to share your views and information. Your valuable contribution will motivate other SME to come forward and help India achieving self-reliance in defence sector.

Article published in Magazine issue “Mar-Apr 2018 “

 

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