Antonys Kerala now defence hub

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 22 2012, 09:21am hrs
Patronised by AK Antony, now the countrys longest-serving defence minister, Kerala is poised to become the countrys defence production hub. Since taking over as UPA-1s defence minister in 2006, Antony has got seven major defence projects for Kerala, joining central ministers like Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Prasad who brought projects and investments to their home states.

Over the weekend, the defence minister inaugurated Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) strategic electronics factory at Kasargod in northern Kerala. The production facility will eventually become an independent division getting production and maintenance work for the avionics of medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), Mirage-2000 upgrade programmes and software-defined radios. During the inaugural function, Antony also promised clearance to the second phase of the project.

On November 14, Antony had inaugurated another complex integrating supersonic BrahMos missile in Thiruvananthapuram for the Indian Air Force. The new unit of Bharat Earth Movers, its fourth in the country at Palakkad and the support centre of Bharat Electronic at Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporations Hi-tech Park are among other projects approved by Antony in Kerala.

BEL currently has support centres at Mumbai and Visakhapatnam.

At the BrahMos event, Antony praised Keralas previous Left Democratic Front government for the good work in supporting him to set up these defence production units in the state. However, the remark attracted flak from the Indian Union Muslim League, a key constituent of the current United Democratic Front government whose leader PK Kunjalikutty is industry minister.

Sources said the first phase of HALs project will cost Rs 66 crore and has been set up on the initiative of the government of Kerala. The state government allotted 196 acres for the unit.

With a Rs 200-crore investment, work on the phase II factory is expected to start soon. Besides manufacturing MMRCA avionics, the Kasargod facility will also cater to the upgrade needs of fighter planes like Sukhois and Jaguars. This will also lead to growth of ancillary industries, generating secondary employment opportunities and enhancing local skill sets.

According to the secretary (defence production), RK Mathur, based on its capacity and experience in avionics, HAL was chosen by the government to set up the factory in Kasargod.

BEMLs Palakkad unit will entail an investment of Rs 260 crore to manufacture Tatra trucks and other military vehicles.

Last year, the defence minister commissioned a Coast Guard Academy at Azhikkal, which is expected to train 500 cadets for search and rescue missions and respond to maritime contingencies. Antony also sanctioned the Rs 600-crore National Institute for Research and Development in Ship Building (NIRDESH) at Kozhikode, which aims to support indigenous ship-building.

The Cochin Shipyard also has some major warship construction orders, including the construction of the first indigenous aircraft carrier.

The state government is also planning to set up a defence equipment ancillary park, for which it has identified Palakkad, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram districts. The park will host PSUs currently supplying defence materials as well as private SME units.