Long before Harry Potter received an ‘invisibility cloak’ for a Christmas present from Professor Dumbledore, India had its very own camouflage technology all thought through – even if it was only on the big screen in a superhit movie called Mr India.
Cut to three decades later, and camouflage couldn’t be more in demand along our borders, where stealth technology, also termed “low–observable” technology, has made a huge difference in this age of modern warfare.
New Delhi-based HyperStealth Technologies, a YourStory Tech50 2021 startup, is one of those rare startups specialising in the defence sector – manufacturing stealth management solutions for camouflage and concealment. Its disruptive technology provides stealth features against the entire range of modern warfare sensors. In an exclusive conversation, Founder Manish Dalmia, tells us all about their products’ adaptability to the surroundings and how it all began.
Being invisible to enemy radar is a good thing, and according to Manish – the unseen is unbeaten. “We used to travel a lot for defence exhibitions outside the country and we used to see that this particular technology or product, only one or two companies in the world were dealing with it despite India being one of the biggest manufacturers of textiles.”
“Previously, camouflage in war was understood to be through bushes because it was all about visual camouflage. But as technology developed, modern warfare ceased to be only about visuals – it’s about sensors now. These days, adversities in war are detected through sensors. And that is a big challenge for everyone.”
To beat this challenge, HyperStealth specialises in developing, designing, and manufacturing advanced solutions such as multi-spectral camouflage net, sniper suits and tents, adaptive thermal signature, radar-absorbing paints, etc.
The camouflage nets are draped on tanks, guns, artillery and other assets so it does not let the enemy side detect the same through sensors. “The nets take care of IR (Infrared) signatures, thermal signatures and radar signatures,” explains Manish.
Conquering entry barriers
The startup’s biggest clients are the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and public sector companies dealing in defence assets like missiles.
It took over six years for Manish and his co-founders Ranu Pathak and Deepak Bhalla to get where they are now – selling their products directly to the special forces in India.
“We did many trials, field trials, especially at the Leh border and in different commands in India. We recently even trialled our sniper suits, and they were successful in making our sharpshooters invisible to the enemy,” exclaims Manish.
Earlier this year, HyperStealth bagged the ‘Innovation for Defence Excellence’ (iDEX) startup challenge award for ‘Adaptive Stealth Coating Solutions.’ The iDEX initiative was launched by Prime Minister Modi in April 2018.
The initiative aims to achieve self-reliance and foster innovation and technology development in Defence and Aerospace by engaging Industries including MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), startups, individual innovators, R&D (research and development) institutes and academia. iDEX has partnered with leading incubators in the country to provide hand holding, technical support and guidance to the winners of its challenges.
“For obvious reasons, the defence sector is such a closed area. The real challenge for us was in field trials, and executing it as we are completely bootstrapped. And all these trials happen without payment – no cost, no commitment,” laughs Manish.
That said, the gamble has paid off for his team as HyperStealth has also received certification from the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bengaluru. Manish is also quick to appreciate the iDEX initiative. “It’s getting better for startups. All praises for the MoD, people like Sanjay Jaju (Additional Secretary – Defence Production) and Ajay Kumar (Defence Secretary), they are all pushing this culture and it’s great for India. India has brains, just needs hand holding,” says an emphatic Manish.
HyperStealth has a manufacturing setup in Delhi, with an R&D centre there as well. Some portions of the fabric for the nets are outsourced to textile mills, “and we get it made as per our specification with approved vendors only,” explains Manish.
The biggest challenge the startup is facing now, as it grows, is funding. With five clients on board, there are plenty of projects in the pipeline, and an urgent need for a bigger team. “The biggest problem is that – and I have spoken to a lot of VCs – without a big order, they just don’t fund. Unlike with internet startups and others that work on ideas and get funded, with defence startups, VCs want to see an order first. That needs to change,” says Manish.
In the next three years, the startup aims to touch Rs 100 crore in revenue as it grows. Presently monopolised by one or two major players globally, in the next five years, HyperStealth also wants to be a key player in the global stealth and camouflage market.