"If you fail, never give up because FAIL means "First Attempt In Learning"- APJ Abdul Kalam
India’s forays in the field of defence production are pockmarked by many failures and false promises.
The journey began shortly after its independence with the establishment of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to produce a wide range of arms, ammunition, and explosives in 1951.
In the 1960s, India started developing its own missile program. This led to the successful development of the Agni series of ballistic missiles.
In 1964, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) was created for in-house research and development of indigenous defence technologies.
The 1980s was the era of state-owned defence production companies like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).
With the liberalization of the economy and the opening up of the Indian defence sector in the 1990s, many private defence companies like Larsen & Toubro, Tata, and Mahindra & Mahindra entered the market.
Today, India is capable of developing and manufacturing a wide variety of indigenous defence equipment like tanks, armoured vehicles, ships, aircraft, missiles, bombs, rockets, missiles, military vehicles, bulletproof jackets, parachutes and optical devices.
All this has been made possible because of men like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who joined the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) as a scientist in 1960 and Narinder Singh Kapany who joined the Ordnance Factory Service after completing his engineering degree from Agra University in 1948. In his autobiography “The Man Who Bent Light,” Kapany describes how he joined the IOFS in a temporary position, but he left after a few months to pursue further studies in England.
Dr Abdul Kalam who eventually became the President of India actually started his career working on small projects at the Aeronautical Development Establishment, a DRDO outfit. One of his very first assignments was to design “Nandi,” a small helicopter named after the sacred bull of Lord Shiva.
During those days the Indian Army badly needed a small multi-purpose helicopter like Nandi for reconnaissance, surveillance, as well as transportation of troops and supplies in difficult-to-reach areas. Things were quite different in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Indian Army was literally performing its duties with its hands tied behind the back due to difficult terrain, inadequate infrastructure, and limited mobility.
In such a situation, a small lightweight but compact helicopter capable of vertical takeoff and landing like Nandi would have provided the army with greater mobility, firepower and flexibility, especially in confined spaces where conventional aircraft or vehicles could not operate. This is what Nandi was designed for but as luck would have it project Nandi was a non-starter.
Both Indian Army and Air Force (IAF), were eager to get the Nandi helicopter for reconnaissance, surveillance, and transportation. But the project had to be scrapped midway because of several technical and logistical issues. In spite of a heavy investment of time and money, the prototype developed for Project Nandi could not fly and hence the project had to be abandoned. It was a sheer waste of expenses related to research, design, testing, and development.
But despite the setback, Dr Kalam went on to become a renowned scientist and came to be called the ‘missile man of India’.
Meanwhile, Kapany primarily known in academic circles as the “Father of Fibre Optics” and “The Man who Bent Light” came close to winning the Nobel Prize for his invention. Conferred upon with Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest honour in India, Kapany had more than 150 patents to his credit. He published over 100 scientific papers and four books on optoelectronics and entrepreneurship and was invited to give lectures to various national and international scientific societies. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered him the post of Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister which somehow did not materialize.
Dr Narinder Singh Kapany was identified as one of the seven “unsung heroes who greatly influenced life in the twentieth century” by Fortune magazine and listed as one of the top ten scientists of the 20th century in Time Magazine’s 1999 issue. But in spite of all this, he remained an unknown face in the crowd and remained ignored till he decided that enough is enough and left India. Even today, very few Indians know that Narinder Singh Kapany was the pioneer who coined the term Fibre Optics in an article in Scientific American in 1960. His work revolutionized telecommunications and paved the way for the development of high-speed internet and other optical communication technologies.
But Kapany was overlooked while Charles Kao Kuen was awarded Nobel Prize for Physics in 2009. To add insult to injury Kao Kuen was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to fibre optic communications”.
Kapany was not the only one. This has been the curse that has affected many great Indian scientists who despite their brilliant inventions remained unknown and uncared for. For instance, Jagadish Chandra Bose was almost ‘sixty years ahead of time,’ and the first scientist to demonstrate wireless signalling in 1895; but Guglielmo Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for wireless communication – almost 14 years after Bose had ‘revealed the magic’.
Many years later Satyendra Nath Bose sent a research paper entitled “Planck’s Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta” to Albert Einstein describing a new statistical method for counting photons in 1924. Einstein recognized the significance of Bose’s work and helped him get it published in the prestigious German physics journal “Zeitschrift der Physik” in 1924.
This led to what is now known as the Bose-Einstein statistics. Einstein went on to extend the theory to include other particles, and together with Bose, developed the concept of Bose-Einstein condensation. This is now regarded as one of the most important and far-reaching developments in the history of physics and has helped in understanding quantum mechanics.
But even though three Nobel Prizes have subsequently been awarded for works based on Bose statistics, Satyendra Nath Bose the originator of the theory –never even got to see what the Nobel Prize looks like, far from getting one himself.
Nalini Ranjan Mohanty – a former IOFS officer served as the Chairman & Managing Director of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and president of the Aeronautical Society of India (ASI). He was awarded Padma Shri for his role in the development of LCA – Tejas in 2004.
Likewise how many people know that Brijmohan Lall Munjal – started his career working in an ordnance factory at Kamalia in the Toba Tek Singh District of undivided Punjab? After partition, Munjal quit the ordnance factory and started his own business at Amritsar, supplying components to cycle manufacturers. In 1954 he started manufacturing cycles, before making mopeds and became the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles. By 1975 Hero became a well-known brand in India and entered the Guinness Book in 1986 as the world’s largest bicycle company. Munjal was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2005.
Another IOFS officer Major HPS Ahluwalia was part of the first Indian mountaineering team to successfully climb Mount Everest in May 1965. But soon after he suffered a bullet injury in the 1965 war with Pakistan, and thereafter remained confined to a wheelchair. He received an early discharge from the Army in 1968. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri and the Arjuna Award as well as the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award.
Santu Shahaney an IOFS officer who served as the first Indian Director General of Ordnance Factories (DGOF) was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan for his contributions to the Indo-China War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, respectively.
R. M. Muzumdar – another IOFS officer who succeeded Shahaney as the Second Indian Director General of the Indian Ordnance Factories was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his contributions during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
W. D. Patwardhan – an IOFS officer and expert in the science of explosives engineering is considered to be one of the key scientists who contributed to making the Indian space program, Indian nuclear program and missile program take off during the early stages. He developed the solid propellant for India’s first space rocket launched at Thumba and was responsible for developing the detonation system of India’s first nuclear device which was successfully tested as part of Operation Smiling Buddha in 1974. He was awarded Padma Shri in 1974.
Known to be one of the “Seven Pioneers of the Indian Space Program H. G. S. Murthy an IOFS officer served as the first Director of the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), and the Space Science & Technology Centre, now known as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He was awarded Padma Shri in 1969.
K. C. Banerjee –an Indian civil servant and IOFS officer while serving as General Manager of Rifle Factory Ishapore contributed to the development of the 7.62 Self-Loading Automatic Rifle which played a decisive role in India’s victory in the 1965 war with Pakistan. He was awarded Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honour in 1967
Likewise O. P. Bahl, another IOFS officer who was the General Manager of Ammunition Factory Khadki, which developed and manufactured the anti-submarine rockets which helped in the sinking of PNS Ghazi submarine during the Bangladesh War was awarded Padma Shri in 1972.
This brings up a number of questions. Were such IOFS officers looking after the ordnance factories; any less competent than the men who were supposed to replace them? Where will the so-called professionally trained managers come from? How fundamentally different – the leaders of the seven new DPSUs will prove to be?
There is much heartburn within the organization, which needs to be attended to before it starts affecting the morale of the rank and file.
Meanwhile, there seems to be not much difference in the manner in which the 7 DPSUs are running the show — now. A few things are even worse than before.
Hence, if it really was a wise decision to lock up the OFB and hand over everything to the seven newly constituted defence PSUs – why not disband the 7 DPSUs and go back to the Ordnance factories?
Munitions India Limited
Munitions India Limited (MIL) has the largest number – 14 production units and 25,000 odd employees. It is India’s biggest manufacturer and market leader in the Production, R&D, Testing, and Marketing of a wide range of ammunition & explosives for the Army, Navy, Air force & Para-Military Forces. It has over 12 state-of-the-art manufacturing units all over the country producing Small, Medium & High calibre ammunition, for tanks, artillery guns, aerial bombs, mortars, rockets, and hand grenades.
- Ammunition Factory Kirkee (AFK)
- Cordite Factory Aravankadu (CFA)
- High Energy Projectile Factory, Tiruchirapalli (HEPF)
- High Explosive Factory Kirkee (HEF)
- Ordnance Factory Bhandara (OFBA)
- Ordnance Factory Bolangir (OFBOL)
- Ordnance Factory Chanda (OFCH)
- Ordnance Factory Dehu Road (OFDR)
- Ordnance Factory Itarsi (OFI)
- Ordnance Factory Khamaria (OFK)
- Ordnance Factory Project Nalanda (OFN)
- Ordnance Factory Varangaon (OFV)
- National Academy of Defence Production (NADP)
- Ordnance Factory Institute of Learning, Khamaria (OFILKH)
Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited
It is an Indian state-owned defence company, manufacturing main battle tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, as well as their engines for the Indian Armed Forces and foreign militaries.
Its products include: the Arjun Main battle tank, T-90 and T-72 all at the Heavy Vehicle Factory at Avadi, BMP-2 Sarath (Chariot of Victory) – an Indian variant of the BMP-2 at the Ordnance Factory Medak and Stallion truck platform for various military and logistics vehicles
- Engine Factory Avadi (EFA)
- Heavy Vehicle Factory, Avadi (HVF)
- Machine Tool Prototype Factory Ambarnath (MPF)
- Ordnance Factory Board, Mumbai Office (OFBMO)
- Ordnance Factory Institute of Learning, Ambarnath (OFILAM)
- Ordnance Factory Institute of Learning, Avadi (OFILAV)
- Ordnance Factory Institute of Learning, Medak (OFILMK)
- Ordnance Factory Project Medak (OFPM)
- RCSAV (RCSAV)
- RCSNR (RCSNR)
- RMCAV (RMCAV)
- Vehicle Factory Jabalpur (VFJ)
Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited
Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited (AW&EIL) has – 10 sub-units. AWE primarily manufactures Small arms and artillery guns for the use of the Indian Armed Forces, and foreign militaries. It was formed incorporating the Rifle Factory Ishapore, Small Arms Factory, Kanpur, Gun & Shell Factory, Cossipore, Ordnance Factory Tiruchirapalli, Ordnance Factory, Kanpur, Field Gun Factory, Kanpur, Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur, and Ordnance Factory Project Korwa as well as non-production units like Ordnance Factories Institute of Learning Ishapore and Regional Controller of Safety, Kanpur.
- Field Gun Factory Kanpur (FGK)
- Gun Carriage Factory Jabalpur (GCF)
- Gun & Shell Factory Cossipore (GSF)
- Ordnance Factory Kanpur (OFC)
- Ordnance Factory Institute of Learning, Ichapore (OFILIS)
- Ordnance Factory Institute of Learning, Kanpur (OFILKN)
- Ordnance Factory Project, Korwa (OFPKR)
- Ordnance Factory Tiruchirapalli (OFT)
- Rifle Factory Ishapore (RFI)
- Small Arms Factory Kanpur (SAF)
Yantra India Limited
Yantra India Limited has – 8 sub-units. One of the seven new Defence Companies, Yantra India Ltd is engaged in manufacturing military-grade components and ancillary products.
Yantra India Limited is a public-sector undertaking operating under the Department of Defence Production of the Indian Ministry of Defence. Its eight production units manufacture components and materials used for weapons, including small, medium and high-calibre shell body hardware for artillery, tank guns, mortars, rockets, pod assemblies, air bombs, cartridge cases and hardware for mechanical and electronic fuses.
- Grey Iron Foundry Jabalpur (GIF)
- Metal & Steel Factory (MSF)
- Ordnance Factory Ambarnath (OFA)
- Ordnance Factory Ambajhari (OFAJ)
- Ordnance Factory Bhusawal (OFBH)
- Ordnance Factory Dum Dum (OFDC)
- Ordnance Factory Katni (OFKAT)
- Ordnance Factory Muradnagar (OFM)
Troop Comforts Limited
Troop Comforts Limited is a Public Sector Undertaking incorporated on 16th August 2021 under the Companies Act, 2013 (18 of 2013) with 100 % equity share held by the Government of India. It is involved in the manufacture of Life Cycle Clothing (LCC), Extreme Cold Climate Items (ECC), Special Clothing & Mountaineering Equipment (SCME), Supply Drop Equipment (SDE), Water Storage Equipment, Covers, Tentages, Leather Items, Arrester Barrier, General Stores, etc. for Defence Services and Civil Sector.
- Ordnance Clothing Factory Avadi (OCFAV)
- Ordnance Clothing Factory Shahjahanpur (OCFS)
- Ordnance Equipment Factory Kanpur (OEFC)
- Ordnance Equipment Factory Hazratpur (OEFHZ)
India Optel Limited
Opto-Electronics Factory, Dehradun (OLF) was established on the 4th of April 1988 in technical collaboration with the USSR for the production of hi-tech optical and Opto-Electronic instruments for tank T-72 and Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) BMP-II also known as SARATH. Its vision is to become a leading and reliable manufacturer in Opto-Electronics, and Communication business and provide world-class, and reliable products at competitive prices to its customers. Its goal is “To become the eyes of the soldiers”.
- Ordnance Factory Chandigarh (OFCd)
- Ordnance Factory Dehradun (OFDUN)
- Opo-Electronic Factory Dehradun (OLF)
Gliders India Limited
Gliders India Limited has – 1 sub-unit. GIL primarily manufactures military parachutes for the use of the Indian Armed Forces and foreign militaries and parachutes for aero-sport and emergency services.
Its main manufacturing facility is the Ordnance Parachute Factory, Kanpur, which was established in 1941 as a repair unit for man-carrying parachutes, which diversified into manufacturing supply drop parachutes and military uniforms in 1962. The 70s saw Gliders India Limited branching off to produce personnel parachutes i.e. PTR-M & PTR-R and floats for KM Bridge and inflatable boats.