Coolest Geeks in India #2: An interview with Captain S Ramaprasad (rtd), VSM, Indian Navy and Managing Director of Kaptron
To be dominant in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India must stay at the cutting edge of anti-submarine warfare capability which naturally continues to depend on the efficacy of underwater detection technology. Today we talk to Captain Ramaprasad, a front-ranking technologist in this domain who cut his teeth in the Indian Navy's Weapons, Electronic, Electrical Systems Engineering' (WEESE) Group at New Delhi and actually went on to develop the combat management system used in the INS Arihant today, an effort for which he received the Vishisht Seva Medal. Captain Ramaprasad's standout work from the past also includes inputs for DRDO's USHUS sonar which is being used in Indian submarines today. An M.Tech from IIT Kanpur, Captain Ramaprasad has declined numerous offers from foreign majors such as Lockheed Martin Librascope over the years to keep working on sonar technology in India. Through his company Kaptron, he continues to make critical contributions to India's submarine detection capabilities.
1. How did your company come to be? Tell us a bit about its origins?
This company was started by some retired naval officers in 1977. I took over this company in November 1998 after I retired from the Navy as a Project Director in WEESE.
While serving in the Navy some officers realised that the Indian Armed Forces have to depend on indigenous technologies sooner than later. Having served the Navy, they were motivated to serve India in a different manner - build indigenous technologies. Armed with the relevant domain knowledge and confidence in themselves, they were motivated to make this company. And I took over in 1998.
2. What are its current areas of work?
We are into sonar, radar and combat management systems. In fact, wherever there is a place for signal processing, probability & statistics; machine learning etc. - we are well-poised to create a positive impact. We develop algorithms, build models, simulate and evolve systems.
3. What technology has Kaptron developed in house?
We have successfully developed a sonar information processor (SIP) that uses sophisticated DSP and graphics. We have also modeled the ocean for sound propagation for predicting the performance of active and passive sonars.
We have developed radar cross section prediction software that can be further developed to build stealthy ships and aircraft. Our core strength is basically algorithm development for mathematically complex - real-time systems for the Armed Forces.
4. What is the potential of this technology?
We can significantly contribute towards upgrading several systems that the Navy is operating today. We can also help cut down development time for systems being created in India today.
5. Tell us a bit about some existing projects where your company has brought new capabilities to the table?
Most recently, the SIP from our stables has made it to serving submarines of the Indian Navy. The SIP incorporates technologies that foreigners might not be willing to sell to India. And this has been used to considerably improve the performance of the legacy Russian MGK-400 sonar on board Indian kilo class submarines in terms of both detection range as well as other aspects. This technology can be used for almost all other classes of sonars whether active or passive, whether hull mounted or towed or dunking. This can be used for sonobuoys also. In fact we are now working on improving a legacy medium frequency dunking sonar in service with the Navy.
6. How do you approach technology development in your company? What kind of human resources do you currently have for that?
Our work is obviously research-intensive, needless to say. All the engineers are selected very carefully. Some of them are from the IITs. In fact, our only strength is the brain power that we have nurtured - with great efforts and struggle. Moreover we also encourage our employees to keep pushing the bar as it were in terms of research and development. I personally encourage engineers in my company to work towards a doctoral thesis with a view to contributing to the existing pool of knowledge.
7. What are some of the challenges faced by companies like yours today?
Basic challenge is the opportunities available to us. While enormous opportunities exist, with India spending lakhs of crores on military equipment, hardly anything comes to us. Many procedures instituted by the Government are basically hostile to small companies like ours that want to do research activities. Instead of giving us professional challenges, we are offered every other type of challenge at multiple levels. At one point, I had to actually sell my house to keep this company running.
8. What kind of support do you think should be forthcoming on the policy front for companies like yours?
Fundamental support to specific R&D activities that could be harnessed for defence purposes, especially when credible technical capability has been demonstrated. Already we are a designated R&D partner for Bharat Electronics Limited for both sonar and radar systems.
9. What do you think are the key trends in sonar technology heading into the future?
Well, the sky is the limit for sonar technology. Today there are high frequency applications for which better resolutions are being sought. There are low frequency applications that promise superior range capability. Long range underwater communications, underwater and undersea explorations are just a few of the possibilities.
For updates follow Saurav Jha on twitter @SJha1618. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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