By Aritra Banerjee
Sushil Ghule, Director of Siliconia Technologies Private Limited and Artemon Pvt Ltd, shared his entrepreneurial journey with Indian Aerospace & Defence, highlighting the Indian Navy’s tireless efforts in helping the start-up ecosystem in India, his company’s work and shape the indigenous defence manufacturing sector is taking.
Q. Could you introduce your companies and what inspired you to join the indigenous defence industry?
Ans: We envision becoming a research and development company in the field of engineering solutions primarily beam-forming technology and are also interested in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). We have a robust team of engineers and associates to develop these critical platforms and technologies in-house. Being an engineer and a student of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) and the Olin Business School of Washington University, I have always wanted to work in the tech space. That is ultimately what attracted me towards this sector.
In line with the Atmanirbhar Bharat of our Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all engineers, technocrats and entrepreneurs have a heavy responsibility in this direction. It is our duty to participate in this grand vision and deliver tangible results to the nation. It is a much-needed change for the indigenous defence industry ecosystem. The government has pledged its support and is holding hands. I feel it is now up to us to do something. It is these ideals that have inspired me to get into this field.
The turning point in my life was when I visited the Swavlamban seminar in 2022. The event was conducted by the Indian Navy and spearheaded by its highly capable Technology Development Acceleration Cell (TDAC). Over there, Commodore Swaraj Balraj had spoken about the critical importance of innovation, strategic self-reliance, and how the country needs change. This was followed by a moving speech by PM Modi. On this fateful day, I realised disruption in this ecosystem can improve many things. I wanted to create some kind of core technology which would be relevant and ‘global first’. That was the idea. It is something which clicked and touched my heart.
Q. Could you tell us about the disruptive technologies that Siliconia Technologies and Artemon Technologies have come up with?
Ans: We have three projects we are currently working on. Of these, two are based on the Application Specific Integrated Chip (ASIC). These projects are the Beamforming Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar with massive Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) technologies and a satellite communication device that uses a software-defined Antenna. At my other company, Artemon Infrastructure, we are working on the Air Launched Effects (ALE) Family of Systems (FoS) consisting of an air vehicle, payload, and mission system applications. It also comprises associated support equipment specially designed to autonomously or semi- autonomously deliver effects as a single agent or as a member of a team launched from medium- range aircraft, fighters and slow movers.
We are working on core technology related to these products and want to commercialise them so that they can cater to the needs of not just the Indian Armed Forces, but other domestic companies, too. We had worked on these technologies a lot, even before we won the iDEX SPRINT 7 challenges.
These technologies I just mentioned are crucial for a host of systems. They have military applications as well as the potential to be used in civilian applications. There is incredible potential for export as well. So far in India, only the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) have such technologies. If we can develop them, we could become a standalone company with R&D-based resources that can create exceptional products.
The applications can be many, but the core technology is one; that is what we are trying to get to.
Q. How has the reception from the Services been so far, and how much involvement have they had in the entire process?
Ans: The shift brought about in all these departments by policymakers, and the defence ecosystem, is immensely beneficial to entrepreneurs. They are helping entrepreneurs to grow and innovate. They provide the proper guidance and are incredibly flexible. The four T’s, Talent, Technology, Tolerance and Trust, form the pillars of innovation one requires. While evolving any novel technology and undertaking research there will be many failures, which teach us. There should be
acceptance from the clients in this regard. All critical military technologies have been developed over time. Once developed, it requires constant refinement.
Presently the experience we are getting from the Indian Navy, iDEX, and the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) are unparalleled. These organisations boast some of the most professional technocrats who understand the business and the technology exceptionally well. In fact, sometimes we are in the business and are trying to conduct R&D, but the innovators from the Services are way beyond us! They know the systems and guide us from scratch, enabling us to tread the right path. They are a treasure trove of experience and are promoting the start-up ecosystem in the country. They provide input and resolve product development challenges, and their contribution to any industry’s success cannot be stressed enough.
Despite being such a high ranking officer, Cmde. Arun Pratap Golaya, the Officer-in-Charge of the Navy’s TDAC, tirelessly visits start-ups, provides instrumental guidance, and gives his recommendations. This is pertinent to highlight because it shows the level of passion, commitment and dedication towards defence innovation an officer of a such high stature shows through his involvement. Cmde. Golaya had recently visited Pune, where he called all start-ups and inquired about individual progress, gave incisive inputs tried to foster synergy within the start-up ecosystem. He tried to solve each problem, not only limited to products but also related to business.
“If you need something, let us know, and we will give you the right people who have indigenised certain products,” he had told the entrepreneurs. This is simply something that is not see anywhere. We should be proud of these people and the Indian Navy’s inclusivity, transparency, adaptability, and acceptance of failure as an essential phase to success. They are building a national ecosystem. I am out of words to express the depth of emotions and gratitude I have towards the Navy and Services at large. I am proud to be associated with such a calibre of people!
Q. How do you see the defence technology sector growing?
Ans: Presently, the indigenous defence sector is at the seed level, it is at the initiation stage, and if you see the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA), they have estimated that the drone industry is currently Rs 80 crores. But, say, by 2046, it will grow to 12,000-14,000 crores. Looking at the compound annual growth rate (CAGR), you will see that it is exponential. This is just one example, and certain parallels can be drawn regarding the indigenous defence industry. Take another example of, say, the 800-900 items banned through the negative import lists; there is a lot of potential within the domestic market. Considering this, the start-up ecosystem can pitch in.
I strongly believe there should be a network effect among start-ups to realise this, though. They should collaborate with the domestic industry and must satisfy our defence forces’ needs. We have the necessary market available, and the present opportunity will never repeat. It is imperative that we capitalise on it now, strike while the iron is hot. We are witnessing something very similar to the software moment India had years ago in the indigenous defence industry now.
What I mean when I say that, is this: software started in India, and we are now masters of software development. We are at a similar turning point when it comes to indigenous defence industry. We will be on a growth trajectory if people catch this opportunity today. The government and policy are supporting, and there is a lot of potential in the market. You have technology and engineers. Everything is there. It is up to young entrepreneurs or SMEs to grab this opportunity to move further. Those who catch hold of this opportunity will grow very fast. That is why I have entered this particular sector.
Q. Is there anything that you would like to add?
Ans: I want to highlight a few names and people from iDEX who greatly impacted my mind and my company’s work. Commander Rahul Verma, Anuj Jain, Kartik Rawat, and Jai Sharma. These are the executives who are really working very hard.
Then there are people from the Science sector, IIT Bombay, where I am incubating my start-up. These people are also allowing me to use their facilities. I’m a student of IIT-B and Olin Business School, Washington University, St Louis so they will definitely support me, but they are also going beyond their official capacity. They are making professors available, and they are making students available. And I also want to thank RV University. Recently, I met the pro-chancellor of the university, Mr DP Nagaraj, and he asked me to interact with young minds from the aerospace and electronics departments. Along with him, the principal, the chancellor and all academicians were present. They are helping start-ups by providing their wonderful facilities and guiding young minds.