Understanding Tech Behind India’s Defence Startups

Understanding Tech Behind India's Defence Startups

Indian startup ecosystem is leveraging technologies like drones, imaging systems and IoT based laser walls for strengthening the nation’s military while achieving the vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat or self-reliant India. Let’s understand the tech behind some of the interesting defence systems developed by these startups.

Crux of the Matter

Avenger UC of Tonbo Imaging
EO (Electro-Optical) systems are imaging systems used for military applications. Involving both visible and infrared sensors, they help formulate images of possible threats during the day, light or low light conditions.

Avenger UC is one such EO system designed specifically for maritime applications like sea navigation and early threat detection in sea or air, via 360° rotation and continuous zoom ability for 24/7 defence operations.

Every UAV Is A Drone But Not Every Drone Is A UAV
UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is a military aircraft with no pilot on board. It can be either a remote-controlled aircraft (e.g. flown by a pilot at a ground control station) or a pre-programmed flight that is flown autonomously.

Drone is a broader term that refers to both commercial and civilian operations like hobby quadcopter or helicopters with four motors and commercial transportation services like Amazon Prime Air and local emergency service startups.

UAS or Unmanned aircraft systems include the entire system required for advanced drone operations i.e the aircraft, ground control station, and communications system.

Ninja UAV Of ideaForge
It is a lightweight UAV built for Mapping and Surveillance with NPNT compliance. ‘No Permission No Take-off” or NPNT is a software program that enables drones to obtain valid permissions through a digital sky platform before operating in India’s defence arena.

It is also helpful in crowd management i.e monitoring the progress of events where large groups of people gather together.

Big Bang Boom’s Flying Warden
This is a drone that can identify and tag miscreants involved in crimes like drug usage, arson, petty theft, spray paint, public urination, etc in regions that can’t be monitored regularly by the police.

Kavach of CRON Systems
Kavach (KVx) laser walls are smarter than the existing laser walls, which are visible because of laser beams. KVx is based on an infrared array that uses thermal images to be invisible.

The walls can alert the nearest outpost immediately about any intrusion attempts and triggers action from a quick response tool (QRT), connected via the internet of things (IoT) technology. In case power goes off, it can be run on UPS for 8-12 hours. The soldier on duty can then assess the threat visually or send out drones to inspect the post.

If you want to know about investments and the business side of these defence startups, check out this story: A Look At India’s Defence Startups

  • The Fairey Aviation Company was a family of British reconnaissance biplanes. First flying in 1917, its flights were still in use during the Second World War.
  • The drone in a box is an emerging form of autonomous UAV technology that uses drones that deploy from and return to self-contained landing “boxes”. Drone-in-a-box systems have been a focus of interest for militaries as a less expensive and less dangerous alternative to human-led communications, resupply, and offensive missions.
  • A target drone is a UAV, generally remote-controlled, used in the training of anti-aircraft crews. More advanced drones are usually made from large, older missiles that have had their warheads removed.

A Look at India’s Defence Startups

A Look at India's Defence Startups

India is taking an aggressive strategy to achieve self reliance in the defence sector. India’s image as one of world’s leading nations of defence weapons importer, can take a significant shift after the government launching several programs to boost startups in the defence sector. Let’s get an overview of India’s defence market and have a look at some of these startups.

Crux of the Matter

Opportunities In The Defence Sector
The government announced that $130 bn will be allocated for the modernization of armed forces in the coming 5-7 years and $15.4 mn to set up the ‘Technology Development Fund’ to boost Research & Development in the sector. For defence infrastructure development, manufacturing cluster & park have been planned in Pune and Dholera. Moreover, the government launched ‘Indigenously Designed, Developed, and Manufactured’ (IDDM), a new category of capital procurement, to achieve self-reliance in the defence sector.

Boosting Startups
The Indian government also announced Defence India Startup Challenge (DISC) under its Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) to boost innovation in the defence sector. The government is looking to fund 250 startups to achieve 50 tangible innovations in the next 5 years. Defence export strategy is introduced to help Defence Public Sector Enterprises (DPSUs) and private defence players to explore business opportunities abroad.

A Look At Some Of Them

Tonbo Imaging
It is a Bengaluru based startup founded by Arvind Lakshmikumar, Ankit Kumar, Sudeep George, and Cecilia D’Souza. So far it has received a total investment of $36.9 mn. In 2017 it raised $27 mn from Walden Riverwood Ventures. Tonbo Imaging offers advanced imaging and sensor systems for military reconnaissance and the security of critical industrial establishments.

It is a Mumbai-based startup founded in 2007 by Ankit Mehta, Rahul Singh, Ashish Bhat, Vipul Joshi. So far, it has raised total funding of $15.3 mn, and in 2016, Infosys invested $10 mn in it. It is a tech startup providing services to DRDO, security forces, and paramilitary. Currently, it also provides services to Delhi Police, National Disaster Response Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and National Security Guard. The startup’s core product is the NETRA defense system developed in collaboration with DRDO under the Ministry of Defense in India.

CRON Systems
It is a New Delhi-based startup founded in 2015 by Saurav Agarwala, Tommy Katzenellenbogen, and Tushar Chhabra. It provides services to solve complex security problems at Indian borders. Currently, it is developing IoT-based products to help the armed forces. Its flagship product is the Kavach security system equipped with multiple sensors such as flight cameras, mmWave radars, and LiDARs to help ‘detect, track and classify’ intrusion up to 150 m ahead of the perimeter.

Big Bang Boom Solutions
It is a Tamil Nadu-based startup founded by Praveen Dwarakanath and Shivaraman Ramaswamy in 2018. This startup has received a grant of ₹1.5 crores from the Defence Innovation Organisation. Mumbai Angels also invested $1 mn in it. It develops integrated intellectual properties for defence purposes. Other products of the startups include T-Series Unmanned Tank Development, BN (boron nitrate) based Hybrid Personal Combat Armour, 360 Advanced Battle Interface, Flying Warden-drones for riot control, and smart fencing system, among others.

  • Y Combinator is an American seed money startup accelerator, which has been used to launch over 2,000 companies including Stripe, Airbnb, Cruise Automation, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, Dropbox, Twitch, and Reddit. The combined valuation of the top YC companies was over $155 billion as of October 2019.
  • Asteria Aerospace is a robotics and artificial intelligence company that develops drone-based solutions to provide actionable intelligence from aerial data. Reliance Industries in 2019, acquired over 51% in Asteria Aerospace for Rs 23.12 crore.
  • 3 new startups launch globally every second, making up for 11,000 per hour, or 259,200 per day! In the U.S. alone, that number is much lower and usually averages at 3 per minute

India And Japan Sign Defence Pact

India And Japan Sign Defence Pact

India added to its national security by signing a defence pact with Japan recently. In doing so, it added to its previous formidable agreements of similar nature which grant it a boost amidst recent border clashes with China.

Crux of the Matter

India-Japan Defence Pact
On 9 September, 2020, India and Japan signed a mutual defence pact named Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to aid “smooth and prompt provision of supplies and services” between the 2 countries. The agreement allows access to each other’s military base as well as food, transportation, fuel, medical services, communications, repair and provision of equipment, and several other facilities. It also allows each country to evacuate its citizens from the other in emergency situations.

The pact covers situations like joint exercises, peacekeeping and relief operations as well as “disasters” in each other’s territory. India now has similar defence pacts with the ‘Quad’ – an informal strategic group of India, Japan, Australia, and the US reportedly formed to counter the increasing Chinese aggression. Let us also have a look some other such strategic military alliances.

India and the US signed a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The agreement provides access to each other’s facilities and supplies like fuel, communication, medical aid, spare equipment, and repair services.

The pact covers overs activities like joint military exercises, humanitarian missions, etc, and is significant for India as it provides access to distant bases like Guam, Djibouti, Diego Garcia, etc.

India and France signed an agreement in 2018 which allows the use of each other’s military bases. The deal is significant for India as France has significant military bases in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The agreement was among 14 others which included sharing of technology regarding nuclear energy and “protection of classified information”.

India and Australia signed the ‘Mutual Logistics Support’ in June 2020 which allows access to each other’s military bases. The pact allows refueling and maintenance services to each other at the bases.

The aim of the agreement was to increase “interoperability” between the 2 countries. It was signed amidst the conflict between Australia and China. As Australia initiated the demand for an independent inquiry into the Covid-19 origin at the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting, China increased its duties on barley coming from Australia in retaliation.

India and Russia are expected to sign a “logistics” support pact in October-November 2020 during the ‘annual bilateral summit’ between the 2 countries.

Russia also affirmed its stance of not supplying arms to Pakistan on Indian request as reported by the Asian News International (ANI).

When it comes to the no defence/arms supply to Pakistan decision, it is based on the request and sensitivities of the Indian side.

Roman Babushkin, Russian Deputy Chief of Mission in Delhi
  • Shinto is a religion originating in Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion by scholars of religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan’s indigenous religion and as a natural religion. Scholars sometimes call its practitioners Shintoists.
  • Radhabinod Pal was a Bengali jurist from India, who was a member of the United Nations’ International Law Commission. He was one of three Asian judges appointed to the “Tokyo Trials” of Japanese war crimes committed during the Second World War. Among all the judges of the tribunal, he was the only one who submitted a judgment which insisted all defendants were not guilty.
  • Exercise Malabar is a trilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan and India as permanent partners. Originally begun in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and the United States, Japan became a permanent partner in 2015.

India’s Defence Import Ban & A Lookback At Export Orientation of ‘Asian Tigers’

India's Defence Import Ban & Aatmanirbhar Strategy

India recently banned the import of 101 defence items to make the country “Aatmanirbhar” (self-reliant) in defence. However, this is not the first case of restricted imports, with several nations having embarked on the road in their histories to boost indigenous production.

Crux of the Matter

Recent Ban
The Government of India recently banned the import of 101 defence items, including “weapons, platforms, and equipment”. The import ban would come into action by December 2020, and further restrictions on the import of defence equipment might be imposed. The aim of such a step is to make India “Aatmanirbhar” (self-reliant) in the production of defence equipment in the country.

Currently, 60% of the country’s military requirements are fulfilled by import. Contracts worth ₹4 lakh crore are expected to be given to the “domestic industries” within the next 5-7 years. The government also “bifurcated” the defence budget between ‘domestic and foreign capital procurement’, with ₹52,000 crores allotted for domestic capital procurement only.

Will India’s Path Be Like Japan’s?
After World War II, Japan devalued the Yen and imposed restrictions on imports to reduce dependency on imports while also boosting indigenous production. While it decreased the export of food items and textiles, the export of electronics and chemicals was increased drastically which increased the overall worth of Japan in the world business. As a result of its policies, Japan has been in a trade surplus almost every year since the 1960s, and has one of the largest trade surpluses in the world.

Impact Of Electronics
Japan initiated by exporting transistors made by companies like Sony, etc. to the US, and became the largest producer of TVs in the 1980s, producing more than 13 million sets per year.

Role Of Automobile
The Japanese government restricted the import of cars and other vehicles after WWII and began exporting cars to other countries by 1950. The country exported more than a million vehicles across the world by 1970s, which was aided by the ‘oil crisis’ of 1973, which further popularized Japanese cars as they were fuel-efficient and of low prices. The demand for Japanese cars was so high at a time that even the then US President Ronald Reagan restricted the import of Japanese automobiles as most of the local production was unable to compete against them.

South Korea
South Korea developed an export-based economy in the 1960s. While the import of goods was restricted, the import of raw materials was encouraged by the reduction of taxes and the provision of incentives. The period between the 1960s and 1990s was highly productive for the country as its economy grew at a rate of 9% in that period. South Korea had a negligible import of cars but increased the production of automobile at home with an added emphasis on exporting it. Between 1998 and 2005, the home production of automobiles increased by more than 58%.

By taking such export-friendly measures, South Korea has developed into an export-based economy. While the contribution of the exports to the GDP was 25% in 1995, the contribution increased to 56% in 2012. India’s exports as a percentage of GDP were ~19% in 2019.

The bottom line and the persistent question is how will India reduce imports and enhance indigenous production in defence and across required sectors?

  • “A Time for Choosing” was a speech presented during the 1964 U.S. presidential election campaign by future president Ronald Reagan. The speech was on behalf of the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. It launched Reagan into national prominence.
  • By law, when a Korean man turns 18 years old, he is enlisted for “first citizen service”, meaning he is liable for military duty but is not yet required to serve. When he turns 19 years old, he is required to undergo a physical exam to determine whether he is suitable for military service.
  • Park Geun-hye is a former South Korean politician who served as President of South Korea from 2013 to 2017. Park was the first woman to be President of South Korea and also the first female president popularly elected as head of state in East Asia.

Government-To-Government Defence Deals For India

Government-To-Government Defence Deals For India

The Indian government recently announced its intent to increase direct defence deals with other Governments, citing several benefits of doing such. Let us take a look at the types of defence deals, and how India plans to achieve ‘self-reliance’ in the sector.

Crux of the Matter

Direct Deals
The Indian government recently announced its intent to encourage “government-to-government” defence deals. The move comes in the light of the Government’s aim to have defence exports of $5 billion by 2025. The display of an increasing number of indigenous products at international shows will also be encouraged.

The target has been set for Defence PSUs (Public Sector Undertaking) and the Ordnance Factory Board to have 25% of their revenue by exports within the next 5 years, with the Government also encouraging the Indian private sector to get more involved in the defence sector amidst the latest aid scheme for the MSME.

Expected Exports
While India already exports arms to other nations, the following are expected to be exported in larger quantities which would significantly increase the defence export revenue:

Government To Government Deals
The Indian government would now be aiming for direct defence deals with other Governments, with an aim to reduce direct deals with private firms of other countries. Direct deals between Governments reduce direct dealings between one Government and the manufacturing company of the other country, which reduces corruption as the “middle-men” are removed from dealings. The manufacturing firm also becomes free to make deal with the private firms of the receiving country, making Transfer-of-Technology (ToT) for home production or any other investments in the private sector of the receiving country possible.


  • The recent deal of India concerning the Rafale jets was directly between the Governments of India and France. In 2015, Indian Govt withdrew from the previous deal between India and Dassault Aviation, and agreed on a €7.87 billion deal in 2016 with the French Government for 36 Rafale jets. Afterward, Dassault and Reliance formed the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) to manufacture several jet components in India.
  • 22 Apache helicopters arrived in India from the US in July 2020 as the result of a 2015 contract for 22 helicopters for the Indian Air Force. Afterward, India and US signed another deal for six Apache helicopters, this time coming for the Indian Army. The Apache deals are hybrid in nature, consisting of:
    • Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) between Boeing and Ministry of Defence, covering “the aircraft (less engines/sensors), logistic support, spares and services”, and
    • Foreign Military Sale (FMS) or Govt-to-Govt deal between government of India and the US government, covering “munitions, training, aircraft certification, engines, radar” etc.
  • The Bofors Deal of 1986 was signed between Indian Government and the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors, with India receiving 400 Howitzer guns worth ₹1,430 crores. However, it was later revealed that Indian politicians including Rajiv Gandhi allegedly received more than ₹60 crores in bribe.

  • A war economy is the set of contingencies undertaken by a modern state to mobilize its economy for war production. Philippe Le Billon describes a war economy as a “system of producing, mobilizing and allocating resources to sustain the violence.”
  • Military Keynesianism is an economic policy based on the position that the government should raise military spending to boost economic growth. This type of economy is linked to the interdependence between welfare and warfare states, in which the latter feeds the former, in a potentially unlimited spiral.
  • Hughes Helicopters was a major manufacturer of military and civil helicopters from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Apache began as the Model 77 developed by Hughes Helicopters for the United States Army’s Advanced Attack Helicopter.