|| By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd.)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
During the second half of 1980’s the Army went in for import of man-portable paratrooping parachutes from South Korea and Poland. Since the imports were done in bulk to make up operational voids there were no elaborate tests within India. When the parachutes arrived, DRDO’s Serial Development Research & Development subjected then to the same testing facilities used for indigenous parachutes that were heavier because of thicker fabric. As a result, the imported parachutes got torn during testing by ADR&D and DRDO promptly declared them ‘unfit’ for paratrooping. But paratroopers go by the maxim ‘Every Man An Emperor’ saw through the plot and hence these imported continued to be used for paratrooping till their shelf lives finally ended. Come 1995 and the DRDO came up with the 5.56mm INSAS assault rifle (still in use) that was developed 15 years after 17 state-of-the-art 5.56 assault rifles from 11 countries were handed over to DRDO in 1980. Incidentally, these 17 rifles included the G-41 of Germany, Aug Steyer Daimler of Austria and Famas of France.
The indigenous INSAS eventually developed after 15 years was nowhere close to the top 10 assault rifles in the global market. But worse was that it was unsuited to very cold climate being prone to jamming and frequent stoppages in such environment. Hence, it is common practice that frontline troops on forward posts on the Saltoro Range in Siachen area keep an AK-47 alongside the 5.56 INSAS, former being far more reliable. Obviously, while developing the indigenous INSAS rifle, its functionality in extreme cold climate was not tested or if tested, was not in adequate measure. But now a Dabaspet based company (72 kms northwest of Bengalur), CM Environs (CME), has created testing facilities to simulates all types of climate for military-grade testing from the cold environs of Siachen to the extreme heat of the Thar desert.
CME provides chambers for testing of projects like the ‘Agni’ missile. Interestingly, the idea for providing such facility came after failure of some sub-systems during the Kargil Conflict in 1999, confirming that while military equipment is deployed in all types of environment, it can’t always be tested in field because of time and logistic constraints. The chamber at BEL built and delivered at a cost of Rs 1.5 crore chamber is capable of simulating sand and dust particles in sizes less than 500 and 20 microns, respectively. While the particle simulation is one thing, the other is the wind speed. All these particles are carried by the wind at different speeds causing different types of damage. This blowing sand and dust test facility simulates take-off and landing, aircraft sub-systems that are exposed to sand and dust particles for testing if the airborne sub-systems are capable of functioning dependably despite the exposure to such sand and dust particles. This is the first time that BEL bought simulation chamber from CME.
Earlier, BEL which develops communication systems, electronic systems for missiles and battle tanks among other things was importing simulation chambers from Weiss Technik, a globally renowned brand and leader in India but according to the CEO of CME not only does CME meet military standards of the US they are also 50% cheaper. Presently, 48 of the 58 DRDO labs are clients of CME. The firm has average annual turnover of $5 million, in the present fiscal reflects $6.5million worth of orders booked, and it has captured a majority of the Indian domestic market valued at $10 million in the last decade that includes military and civilian markets. This is a remarkable achievement in the private sector where even countries like the US spend millions of dollars over several years to test such equipment in simulated conditions and make the final product more adaptive to such places. The global industry in simulation of this kind is valued at $1 billion market while the Chinese market is $200 million. CME claims their chambers can simulate a wind speed of up to 29 metre/second, at which speed the product experiences accelerated stress. They can also simulate -70°C to 180°C in a controlled manner, as well as simulate relative humidity. Why the sprawling empire of the DRDO did not come up with such simulating facilities over the decades remains a mystery. But clearly the private sector in India has much to offer and should be integrated more in defence production.