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'Make in India is a critical national necessity; foreign OEMs have accepted it'

"We see a distinct focus from the defence forces to support and push the indigenization agenda in our Indian interactions with them. Sooner than later, our friendly neighbours will look up to MSMEs for MRO in the defence sector, making India into a defence MRO hub," says Crown Group Defence Group President Vice Adm Paras Nath (Retd)

Interview with Crown Group Defence Group President Vice Adm Paras Nath Retd
First Published Nov 22, 2022, 11:07 PM IST

Government of India’s thrust on ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ vis-a-vis current environment and ecosystem, great opportunities have arisen for MSME groups to build their capability and to meet future challenges in defence MRO. Indian defence forces have equipment and platforms from multiple sources; hence challenges are even greater. The necessity for Make in India does not need reiteration. Indigenization and innovation must now be the primary focus, particularly for MSMEs, who alone can fill the gap for MRO activities in the critical defence sector.

Crown Group, which has established itself as India’s leading defence MRO provider for critical services to the Indian Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard through its various wings, is again at the forefront of meeting the recent challenges. 

The Group is establishing newer MRO centres and forging technological tie-ups to indigenize & provide mission-critical services to Indian armed forces. 

Vice Adm Paras Nath (Retd) AVSM, VSM, Group President of Crown Group Defence, shared his views on how multiple challenges can be turned into opportunities by groups/ companies like Crown Group.

What are your views on the steps taken by the Government of India to make India self-reliant in Defence MRO? Do you think India is on the right track to becoming a Defence MRO hub? 

The Government of India’s initiative in making Indian defence forces MRO self-reliant is indeed laudable and timely. As a nation with multiple security challenges and huge defence assets, we must develop critical indigenous MRO capabilities as we must maintain and service military assets to be in mission mode all the time. The current environment and threat perception necessitate our industry to gear up for new activities.

Therefore, Make in India is a critical national necessity in the defence sector which will pay very rich dividends for the country in times to come. We see a distinct focus from the defence forces to support and push the indigenization agenda in our Indian interactions with them. Sooner than later, our friendly neighbours will look up to MSMEs for MRO in the defence sector, making India into a defence MRO hub. 

Crown Group’s defence verticals have been in the MRO business for long. What are your plans to expand and take on the ever-growing needs of defence forces? 

Crown Group’s verticals are definitely expanding on a war footing. We have already strengthened our marine presence in Vishakhapatnam and Andaman & Nicobar. Karwar and Chennai facilities are being augmented with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. Partnerships with Marine and Aviation OEMs are being expedited for quick transfer and absorption of the latest technology. Moto of Crown Group is to “Serve the Nation” by partnering with reputed OEMs to provide quality support to defence forces.

Do you find major difficulty in partnering with foreign OEMs? 

Difficulties! Yes, major and minor. But we look at the difficulties differently. One must overcome hurdles through innovation and evolution to achieve big and good. Fortunately, most foreign OEMs have accepted 'Make in India'. They have understood that the thrust is a ‘win-win’ situation for all in terms of economy of scale, cost-cutting and expeditious service at the seafront.

What is Crown Group’s core competency, and how do you plan to enhance technical and professional manpower 

I think Crown Group’s core competency is its technical and professional team. This is a unique group wherein we have Ex-servicemen (ESM) from Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard backed up by finance, legal and strategy planners from the civil environment. As mentioned earlier, we are in the process of upgrading our infrastructure and machinery equipment regularly. As the maxim goes, “It's the man behind the machine that matters”. Our manpower is the best one can have. We are further augmenting the human resource as the requirement grows.  Our team comprises some of the best; the Marine division is headed by Cmde Rakesh Anand (Retd), former CMD of Mazagon Dock; the Aviation division is led by Rear Adm Devender Sudan (Retd), former ACNS (Air) and Fighter pilot, Commerce and Purchase department is headed by Cmde SK Iyer (Retd), a seasoned logistician, and Strategic planning is looked after by Vikas Banga. We have a long list of senior and mid-level veterans taking Crown Group forward.

Is Crown Group planning to harness the defence infrastructure and core competency in the civil environment? 

Yes, very much. With foreign collaboration, we have taken baby steps in making shallow water crafts and river dredgers for IWAI. IWAI is giving full support and guidance in this area. We also have plans to create an exclusive ‘Make in India’ vertical under the Crown Group. 

Please tell us about some of the critical MRO services you have provided for the Indian Navy, as your marine vertical is quite elaborate and one of the oldest. 

There is a long list, and some of them cannot be shared for obvious reasons. What we can share includes successful MRO jobs for India’s only aircraft carrier ‘INS Vikramaditya’, amphibious warship ‘INS Jalashwa’ and various other Marine, Aerospace and Avionics projects. 

We have one of the largest facilities in Karwar, which is Asia’s biggest Defence Naval Base, to undertake mechanical and electro-mechanical repairs primarily for the Indian Navy. In Goa, we have set up two facilities catering to Defence Aerospace MRO and Avionics repairs, including a NABL-accredited calibration laboratory. 

We have set up an electronics repair/manufacturing facility in OIPL Mumbai, where we are doing repairs of complex weapon equipment, PCBs and electronic modules. 

In addition, we have two ship repair workshops in Chennai and Vizag, with satellite nodes in Cochin, Port Blair, Calcutta, Andaman & Nicobar. Our corporate office in Delhi coordinates and provides strategic decision support to our customers. 

Apart from critical MRO services, does Crown Group Defence plan to manufacture defence components and equipment in India? 

Crown Group has already established facilities and received orders for the design & manufacturing of complex PCBs for specialized equipment in OIPL, Mumbai. We are further working towards establishing indigenous manufacturing facilities for components and spares that have higher volumes or are categorized as consumables.   

With the government’s focus on promoting self-reliance in defence manufacturing and positioning India as an exporter of military hardware, Crown Group's focus is on indigenization through tie-ups with international OEMs and in-house research and development. 

In a drive to support the indigenization of equipment for Indian Naval Ships and Submarines, Crown Group has tied up with major pump manufacturers to provide seafront service to the Indian Navy ships and submarines and take on component manufacturing subsequently.

We are also engaging with academia across India to bring out technologically advanced solutions that will strengthen and modernize the Indian Defence sector. We have tied up with Amrita University to promote Defence R&D. We are also in advance talks for collaboration with IITs & other reputed Universities for various Defence projects. 

Crown Group has emerged as the partner of the first choice for international OEMs for setting up mission-critical defence MRO and manufacturing facilities in India. So what makes Crown special and a preferred partner? 

We have a legacy of more than four decades of serving Indian defence forces. Right from the beginning, the Group has had a non-negotiable focus on quality and timely delivery because we understand the critical importance of both these attributes for defence operations. The appreciation of the outstanding MRO services and on-time delivery of critical projects has helped the Group secure a good deal of MRO contracts from the Indian Armed Forces.

On the other hand, global OEMs that are looking for organized players to help them maintain and service their equipment, and provide quality service to their customers in India, find it easy to partner with Crown Group. This is because we have a professional team with experienced personnel from defence and have set up world-class facilities for MRO of Indian naval marine and aviation assets. All these together put Crown Group Defence in a strong position to support any foreign company in setting up their manufacturing/MRO base in India and taking forward the vision under Make in India. 

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