NEW DELHI — Indian defense electronics giant Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) plans to develop into a leading missile systems integrator within the next five years, according to the company's outgoing Chairman Sunil Kumar Sharma.

BEL is establishing a Defence Systems Integration Complex at Palasamudram in Andhra Pradesh in southern India with an investment of more than $120 million, Sharma said, adding that it will be country's largest missile systems integration facility where missile systems such as navigation, seeker, radar, fire control and guidance will be manufactured.

"The proposed complex will be a world-class facility with automated-guided vehicles and industrial robots for material movement and handling with state-of-the-art manufacturing infrastructure for radars and weapon systems integration," he said. "The facility at Palasamudram will enable BEL to expand its business and strengthen the country's capability for manufacturing and integration of upcoming projects in the area of surface-to-air missile systems and network-centric systems".

The complex will also have a state-of-art missile firing range facility.

BEL, however, is not planning to manufacture the missiles themselves. Instead, the company will focus on the development of electronics for missiles — in association with defense research and development laboratories — and build its technical expertise and infrastructure for the integration of missile systems.

Considering the large number of missile system programs in the area, BEL would benefit from diversification by taking on missile manufacturing — something that would require approval of the Indian government and collaboration with private industry if the opportunity arose, Sharma said.

A senior BEL official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "We are eyeing to be a lead missile integrator for futuristic missile systems programs such as homemade Akash-2 medium-range surface-to-air missile programs, quick reaction surface-to-air missile systems, short-range surface-to-air missile systems and other medium-range surface-to-air missile programs in [the] future."

An official with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said BEL has the capability to be a lead integrator for complex missile systems and that the MoD may grant approval on specific case. The official added that in the next 15 years, more than a dozen types of missile systems will be manufactured in India and BEL stands a good chance in winning few projects.

"Currently, BEL is working on the development of [a] next-generation seeker-based Akash system with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories. In addition, we have also teamed up with DRDO laboratories for joint development of [an] indigenous quick-reaction surface-to-air missile system, including radio frequency seekers, leading to subsequent manufactur[ing] of these systems", the senior BEL official said.

In partnership with DRDO, BEL has successfully  developed, manufactured and deployed the Akash missile system for the Indian Air Force as the lead system integrator.

The company also teamed up with state enterprise Bharat Dynamics Limited to supply sensors and command-and-control systems for the Indian Army's Akash missile program.

To address the needs of India's armed forces, BEL has also entered into strategic alliances with DRDO, Ordnance Factories, and other reputed global and Indian defense businesses. Projects involved surface-to-air missile systems, air defense radars, artillery and air defense gun upgrades, and new artillery and air defense gun programs, the senior BEL official noted.

Sharma admitted that the main challenge has been identifying a suitable partner who is willing to jointly work and transfer the niche technology know-how, where needed, and offer solutions and support to customers on a long-term basis.

Defense being a highly sensitive area, technologies are closely guarded by foreign original equipment manufacturers, so such joint efforts would require licenses from governments entities, Sharma added.

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