Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh launched Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) Prime and sixth Defence India Start-up Challenge (DISC 6) during DefConnect 2.0 in New Delhi on April 22, 2022. The iDEX-Prime aims to support projects, requiring support beyond Rs 1.5 crore up to Rs 10 crore, to help ever-growing start-ups in the defence sector.
The DISC 6 with 38 Problem Statements was also launched by the Raksha Mantri. Apart from the three Services and some Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) which have participated in earlier editions, DISC 6 witnesses the participation of newly-formed seven defence companies, Indian Coast Guard and organisations under Ministry of Home Affairs for the first time. The Problem Statements relate to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Advanced Imaging, Sensor Systems, Big Data Analytics and Autonomous Unmanned Systems and Secured Communication among others.
The winners of DISC 5, Open Challenge (OC 2 and 3) were also felicitated and two sessions with stalwarts of the industry were organised during the event. In addition, a static exhibition of an array of start-ups supported by iDEX-Defence Innovation Organisation (iDEX-DIO) was displayed to all the attendees, with the aim to motivate budding entrepreneurs to take the leap.
In his address, Shri Rajnath Singh described DefConnect 2.0 as a symbol of increasing technological prowess of the country and a celebration of the continuous growth of the Indian defense start-up ecosystem. It is indicative to the success of the iDEX initiative which has helped in the development of many new and indigenous technologies, he said.
The Raksha Mantri congratulated the Department of Defence Production (DDP) for receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration 2021 under the ‘Innovation (General) – Central’ category for the iDEX initiative. He lauded iDEX for providing an important platform for start-ups to showcase innovations and technological developments. “iDEX has provided an opportunity to our science and technology professionals to understand futuristic technologies such as AI, Augmented Reality, Block-chain and Space technologies. The start-up ecosystem has also been promoted and encouraged through order placement,” he stated.
Shri Rajnath Singh appreciated the fact that iDEX has, so far, introduced more than 100 iDEX Winners to the market, thus providing direct & indirect employment to thousands of skilled and semi-skilled people. He hoped that lakhs of people will get employment with the introduction of iDEX winners to manufacturing enterprises. It is an important step towards improving the socio-economic condition of many people, he said.
The Raksha Mantri stressed on continuous strengthening of all sectors, especially the security apparatus, of the country to deal with challenges that may emanate from the fast-changing world order. “Every new threat is becoming more complex and challenging than the previous one. After the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is now witnessing the Ukrainian conflict. We have also witnessed instability in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan. One way or the other, such events impact our country as well. There is a need to equip the country in every area to ensure peace and stability. The development of disruptive technology is a key requirement to handle new threats and challenges of the future,” he added.
Terming the private sector, individual innovators, start-ups and MSMEs as strong pillars of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ as envisioned by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the Raksha Mantri exhorted them to imagine, innovate & develop new defence technologies and ensure uniqueness in each one of them. He stated that defence technologies are one of those technologies, utility and uniqueness of which hold equal importance. “The usefulness of defence technologies is important, but its availability to us alone holds equal relevance. As the technology spreads to others, it loses relevance. If the uniqueness is lost, the effect of that technology gradually diminishes. There is a need to develop new technologies, with focus on ensuring uniqueness. The Government, Armed Forces, private sector, individual innovators, start-ups, MSMEs and academia can together create a strong bond and move forward to achieve the shared aim of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’,” he said.
Shri Rajnath Singh listed out a number of steps taken by the Government to create an eco-system that strengthens the domestic industry, start-ups & innovators, equip the Armed Forces with latest equipment and help the Government achieve the ultimate aim of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’. The measures include earmarking 68 per cent of capital procurement budget for domestic procurement to promote ‘Aatmanirbharta’, reserving 25 per cent of defence R&D budget for private industry & start-ups and the recent release of third positive indigenisation list of 101 items. He exuded confidence that many start-ups will soon come out as defence unicorns and make a place in Fortune 500 companies.
Speaking on the occasion, Chief Executive Officer Niti Aayog Shri Amitabh Kant described defence manufacturing as key for India to become a manufacturing hub. He said, the achievements of iDEX have laid the foundation of a huge success story that manufacturing will take place in India in the times to come. Shri Amitabh Kant added that Indian start-ups possess a phenomenal energy and they are successfully finding solutions to challenges in defence manufacturing and agriculture productivity among others. The Government aims to tap the potential of start-ups to solve the problems of the future. He appreciated the fact that defence manufacturing is witnessing an increasing number of women entrepreneurs, who will push the limit of innovation and R&D in India.
Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar credited the start-ups for the success of the iDEX initiative. He, however, termed it as just an interim milestone, calling upon the start-ups to continuously strive to develop home-made technologies and bring them at par with international technologies. Dr Ajay Kumar urged the Armed Forces and the DPSUs to come with more challenges for the start-ups which can strengthen the defence ecosystem. He also lauded the Armed Forces for their continued support and faith in iDEX.
The third edition of Innovate4Defence internship (i4D) was also launched on the occasion, inviting applications from students all over India. In addition, a DIO e-Brochure and the ‘Runway for Innovations’ e-Coffee Table Book was launched during DefConnect 2.0.
Secretary, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Dr G Satheesh Reddy, Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Manoj Pande, Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral SN Ghormade, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Narmdeshwar Tiwari, other civil and military officials of Ministry of Defence, heads of start-ups, individual innovators were among those present on the occasion.