Expansion likely, minor investment by May or June: sources

Exactly three years after it was inaugurated by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, the product support centre of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) at Kinfra Park in Kalamassery has fallen short of becoming a service coordinating centre for BEL-manufactured equipment in the armed forces, especially on naval platforms.

The high-voltage opening reverberated with promises of employment generation through the centre.

The product support centre was mandated to closely work with the Naval Ship Repair Yard in Kochi to ensure maintenance of systems and components made by it for warships and naval training establishments in the region; with the Thrikkakara-based Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL), Kerala’s only DRDO facility, which develops sonars and underwater systems for the Navy; and with its outsourcing partner Keltron which collaborates in the manufacture of some of these key system components.

However, sources in the Navy, NPOL and Keltron said the centre was last heard of at the time of its inauguration.

The Hindu in 2012 reported that the centre remained a non-starter. BEL then augmented its staff strength at the diminutive set-up from four to eight, three of them now deployed for maintenance of the coastal radars operational in the State under the Coast Guard.

That apart, an occasional training module was all that took place at the facility, operating from a 1,000-sq.-metre building in 6.2 acres of land leased from Kinfra for a period of 90 years, said a Kinfra official.

Late last month, Kinfra managing director S. Ramnath met top BEL officials in Bangalore to discuss the scope for taking the centre forward and expanding it on the lines of such centres in Mumbai and Visakhapatnam.

“BEL can also play a major role in the electronic cluster that the Kinfra Park in Kalamassery is gearing up to have. I hope they realise it and at least enhance and operationalise the service infrastructure here for now,” said a senior Kinfra executive.

While BEL officials at its corporate headquarters in Bangalore did not respond to queries from The Hindu on the company’s expansion plans for the product support centre, sources said minor investment would be made by May or June, probably to construct another building and install machinery so that the centre could take on manufacture of one of the two advanced light towed array (sonar) system (Altas) developed by NPOL.

“The plan is to make two Altas systems in parallel, one in Bangalore and the other here,” said a source, adding the company might empanel workers on contract to help execute the task.

However, Keltron Controls in Aroor, which has previously delivered full-length towed array systems (barring the winch) to NPOL for its Nagan towed array systems, remained absolutely clueless about BEL’s plans. “They are yet to tell us about their plans for Altas,” said a senior Keltron official. (Annually, Keltron wins sub-contracts worth over Rs. 15 crore from BEL.)

A major task of the product support centre is to coordinate among BEL’s production units to ensure timely delivery of electronic warfare suit and composite communication system to be fitted on the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant under construction at the Cochin Shipyard.

Bereft of adequate manpower, machinery or mandate, the centre was clearly out of picture on that front too, said a source.

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