Among the three branches of the Indian armed forces, the Indian Navy has consistently been at the vanguard of technological and innovative changes. During the country’s 75th year of independence, the Indian government gave the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ project tremendous momentum, with self-reliance in defence (especially the need to boost breakthroughs in indigenous disruptive defence technology) being a prominent feature.
In this context, the Naval Indigenisation and Innovation Organisation (NIIO) and the Technology Development Acceleration Cell (TDAC), which is NIIO’s innovation arm along with Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), collaborate to develop the necessary research and development (R&D) support for disruptive and niche technologies.
The initiative aims to honour ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ by incorporating 75 indigenous defence solutions into the Indian Navy by the next Independence Day. The Defense Innovation Organisation is supporting this programme (DIO). A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed under the title of SPRINT, which is an acronym for “Supporting Pole-Vaulting in R&D through iDEX, NIIO, and TDAC.”
SPRINT strives to fund and sponsor promising Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME), institutions, startup companies, and even exceptionally brilliant people. All of this is governed by the existing iDEX requirements.
How does NIIO operate?
The NIIO has proposed a collaborative method to accelerate the development of ultra-advanced, disruptive, indigenous defence technology to achieve more sustained and rapid innovation. In August 2020, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the NIIO. At the top of the hierarchy is the Naval Technology Acceleration Council (NTAC), which Vice Admiral SN Ghormade, Vice Chief of Naval Staff, leads. Twice a year, NTAC convenes to allow the organisation’s leadership to discuss their views and vision. Both ‘innovation’ and ‘indigenisation’ are examined in great detail.
The NIIO Working Body, abbreviated as NIIO WG, is the second layer; the Assistant Chief of Materiel (Modernisation) and the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff co-chair this group (Staff Requirements). The working group meets every two months unless there is a compelling reason to meet in between the scheduled meetings. NIIO WG routinely monitors whether cases have made progress.
TDAC, in partnership with the Directorate of Indigenisation and other important stakeholders, is responsible for carrying out these decisions.
It is noteworthy because TDAC has only four executives, making it the essence of a lean organisation. The goal of forming a close-knit group of innovators was to circumvent the bureaucracy and excessive delays that have long impeded growth in government organisations, including the military. These officers, led by Commodore Arun Pratap Golaya, currently the Officer in Charge of TDAC and overseeing innovation for the Indian Navy, execute the organisation’s vision.
Young officers (YO) who have been hand-picked for their inventiveness provide support for the cell. They operate outside of the Navy’s standard hierarchical conventions. Even a YO is permitted direct communication with Naval Headquarters (NHQ). The organisation is designed to be efficient and receptive to innovation; it is the vanguard of the development of defence technology. In addition to directing internal growth, TDAC is tasked with interacting with key stakeholders from the defence industry, startups, and academia.
NIIO & DIO: Collaborate & Innovate
The DIO was created as a non-profit organisation pursuant to Section 8 of the 2013 Companies Act. The organisation is in charge of administering the iDEX initiative. A specialised team with functional autonomy is responsible for carrying out the organisation’s objectives. The Ministry of Defence (Department of Defence Production) was awarded the 2021 Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration for its iDEX initiative.
Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav will celebrate the MOU between NIIO and DIO to bring 75 vital technologies/products into the Indian Navy’s arsenal. While the present iDEX procedures will be followed, the NIIO and DIO have agreed to decrease the timescales drastically. When created, successful items will be integrated into the service using the ‘accelerated procurement methods’ applicable to iDEX cases.
Not Merely Vendors, But National Security Partners
Today, creating any ultra-advanced niche technology solutions necessitates tight collaboration between industry and academics, which can act as force multipliers for inventive breakthroughs.
In the past, the military viewed the defence sector and the startup ecosystem as mere providers of products or services to suit their urgent operational needs. However, this perception has undergone a seismic shift. Instead, NIIO is at the forefront of a transformation in which it envisions industrial, startup, academic, and innovation partners working together to enhance India’s national security.
This has primarily been the case for Industry Innovation Partners-designated deep-tech firms operating in important sectors. They were granted access to sensitive naval assets, including surface ships, submarines, and planes, to gain a comprehensive grasp of the Indian Navy’s needs.
In addition, industry players interact monthly with the end-user and are briefed on the Navy’s technology requirements. This monthly industry-end user engagement is organised by the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM) as part of a long-term calendar and occurs on the last Friday of each month.
Long has the industry sought a comprehensive understanding of the end user’s intentions for incorporating the technology into the service. These requests have been scaled in terms of quantity and projected duration. Industry leaders have claimed that this perspective would help them to be appropriately informed about areas of emphasis, allowing them to direct their R&D efforts more precisely.
The ongoing discussion among stakeholders indicated that technological roadmaps are only effective as a document if they indicate the requirements in concrete words, such as by including statistics. These discussions resulted in a declassified version of the “Universal Unmanned Roadmap for the I.N” being made accessible to interested industrial partners, although it was not directly made public.
Regarding academia, the Indian Navy has collaborated with several academic institutions. The Navy has also established the Indian Naval Students’ Technical Engagement Programme (IN STEP). This is a significant development that fosters top academic institutions that are home to some of the nation’s best minds. The Navy selects some of India’s most prestigious institutions as knowledge partners and provides them with problem statements to answer.
In addition, deserving students are offered a five-month online internship where they are mentored and given unique exposure. IN STEP has organised and presented three problem statements for an open competition. This is intended to instil critical thinking in the brightest students while perhaps generating ideas for the Indian Navy. Winners will be invited aboard Indian Navy ships for a day at sea.
What began as a choice to construct warships domestically has resulted in the Indian Navy becoming a leader and contributing greatly to the nation’s industrial foundation fulfilling its ambition of being a “builders navy.” Since its formation, NIIO has permitted the Indian Navy to register various intellectual property rights (IPR). Most of these patents are the result of internal research; a handful is the result of collaborations with academics and industry, incorporating an appropriate mix of discoveries that fulfil naval-specific and dual-use purposes.
SPRINT-Ing Towards Make-In-India
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian Navy developed several life-saving dual-use innovations, most notably the NavRakshak Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) conceived by naval doctor Surgeon Commander Arnab Ghosh and the Aadyant Oxygen Recycling System conceived by Lieutenant Commander Mayank Sharma. The navy personnel’s applications of these medical discoveries extend beyond the pandemic.
For instance, the Aadyant Oxygen Recycling System can double or even quadruple the lifespan of medical oxygen cylinders. This is achieved through the recycling of breathed oxygen. This innovation’s significance extends far beyond the answer it gives; it can also lessen the risk of fires erupting in the operating room and the cost of acquiring oxygen.
Both civilian and military medicine can meet this objective. Other military uses could lessen the logistical difficulties of providing oxygen cylinders in high-altitude zones (HAA), such as Siachen, by extending the lifespan of each cylinder and improving oxygen budgeting.
According to the Indian Navy, the SPRINT effort will greatly accelerate the rate of indigenous technology incorporation.
Additionally, more than seventy-five problem statements provided by the Indian Navy as iDEX (SPRINT) challenges will adhere to the Defence India Startup Challenge (DISC) processes. The open challenge format of iDEX also applies to SPRINT. In this manner, the industry and even individual innovators may submit suo moto proposals, which the services will evaluate to see if they satisfy their needs. This will conform to the established iDEX protocols. The fact that the industry has already received multiple proposals may be significant.
It is envisaged that the SPRINT effort will introduce game-changing military technology into the Indian security ecosystem. Other developments, while on a smaller scale, may satisfy pending user needs. What makes an effort truly noteworthy is that it brings much-needed collaborations amongst varied stakeholders, bridging the gap between end-users, academia, industry, and incubation centres through cooperation between the NIIO and DIO, thereby SPRINTing towards defence self-reliance.