Pratesh Gandhi is the Director, India Strategic Development, of General Atomics. A dynamic ex-military pilot and protective services professional, he is a graduate from National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Maharashtra. He is an experienced executive with a demonstrated record of working in the defense and space industry with tangible results. He is also skilled in Operations Management, Aviation, Command, Defense, Project Management, and Business Development.
In an interview to PK Ghosh of Raksha Anirveda, Mr Gandhi besides describing the uniqueness of General Atomics products and solutions also spoke on the company’s plans to be part of India’s growth story. Edited excerpts:
RA: General Atomics as a defence and energy corporation is known for specialized and pioneering research and technology development. Kindly elaborate on the company’s core area of functionalities?
PG: General Atomics is a defense and diversified technologies’ company. GA and affiliated companies operate on five continents and include GA Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI).
GA-ASI produces a series of unmanned aircraft and provides electro-optical, radar, signals intelligence, and automated airborne surveillance systems. GA’s Electromagnetic Systems Group produces electromagnetic aircraft launch and recovery systems for the US Navy, satellite surveillance, electromagnetic rail gun, high power laser, hypervelocity projectile, and power conversion systems.
GA is the principal private sector participant in thermonuclear fusion research through its internationally recognized DIII-D and inertial confinement programs for the US Department of Energy. GA developed the UCSD Supercomputer Center and has constructed more than 60 TRIGA® nuclear research reactors in 24 countries. GA is a leader in development of next-generation nuclear fission and high-temperature materials technologies.
RA: The defence and security cooperation between India and United States is on the upward trajectory and both the countries are working together on advanced defense equipment and technology. How General Atomics has been contributing and providing India with a variety of systems and technologies, including MQ-9B (SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian), and electromagnetic aircraft launch and recovery systems (EMALS) for Indian aircraft carriers?
PG: Our Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) offer significant benefits over traditional launch and recovery systems. EMALS’ flexible system architecture makes it well suited for installation on a variety of platforms. EMALS eliminates the limitations facing existing carrier launch systems by providing the flexibility and capability to launch a wider range of aircraft weights, including manned and unmanned aircraft. Both EMALS and AAG expand the launch envelope, while reducing manning and lifecycle costs and maintenance requirements. The US and Indian Governments continue discussions to bring these systems to the Indian fleet.
Regarding MQ-9B, the remotely piloted aircraft system developed by GA-ASI has already been selected by the UK, Australia and Belgium, with growing interest throughout the world. As the world’s pre-eminent designer and manufacturer of innovative RPAS that provide connected, interoperable and persistent situational awareness solutions over land, air and sea domains, we know that MQ-9B’s capabilities and mission sets match well with India’s needs.
RA: General Atomics’ Unmanned Aerial Systems and Sensors are a class apart and above competition. Please elaborate on the advance technology being embedded in the making of its UAS and sensors and insights into your leadership position in the global defence market?
PG: SeaGuardian, as an example for the Indian Navy, uses high-tech sensors to enhance situational awareness in the maritime domain. One of these sensors is the Electro-Optical/ Infrared (EO/IR) system, which is a sensor that provides Full Motion Video (FMV) at a great distance. It can be used to recognise and visually identify buildings, vehicles, ships and people, as well as unusual activities like fire or oil pollution, by day or night. When coupled with a wide-area, all-weather sensor like a Multimode Maritime Radar, SeaGuardian provides the best possible capabilities for wide area maritime surveillance. The Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) is an important maritime radar mode that allows for classification of vessel type from a distance and through cloud cover. The combination of SeaGuardian’s sensor suite, along with its extraordinary endurance, confirms the value of this RPAS.
RA: Tell us about your India specific products / solutions offering in nuclear energy, defence and security sector. How do you position General Atomics in next five years in the evolving Indian defence and security market?
PG: General Atomics and its affiliated companies constitute one of the world’s leading resources for high-technology systems ranging from the nuclear fuel cycle to electromagnetic systems, remotely operated surveillance aircraft, airborne sensors, and advanced electronic, wireless and laser technologies. GA and its affiliated entities also manufacture, operate, and service state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles, are engaged in uranium mining and processing, and provide nuclear instrumentation, aircraft launch and recovery systems, superconducting magnets, systems for hazardous material destruction, magnetic levitation systems, medical diagnostic products, information technology and many other products and services for government and industry.
For over 50 years, GA and its affiliates have been qualified by US Government organizations, including the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, as a government contractor and facilities operator. GA and affiliates’ facilities contain over three million square feet of engineering, laboratory and manufacturing installations in the San Diego area. GA and its affiliates also have operations in Berlin, Dresden, Adelaide, Washington DC, London, Paris and Tokyo.
As India emerges as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, there is significant demand for new and emerging technologies. GA, being at the forefront of future-ready technologies, envisions being partner to India’s rapid growth. With its vast repertoire of innovative applications, GA plans to contribute to India’s expansion in the fields of unmanned aerial platforms, electro-magnetic systems, de-militarisation systems and energy.
RA: The Indian government’s focus on Atmanirbhar Bharat emphasizes on innovation and technological advancement through research and development. Do you plan in near future to play a pivotal and collaborative role through R&D partnership with Indian research institutions?
PG: Yes, collaboration with Indian research institutions will provide significant value and synergy to GA efforts.
RA: General Atomics recently tied up with Boeing to develop high-energy laser weapon. What is the purpose and objective of such weapons in the current multi-domain battle space scenario? Any other collaboration of such an advanced stage of technological development?
PG: General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems and Boeing announced a partnership to jointly pursue opportunities for a 100 kW-class scalable to 250 kW-class High Energy Laser (HEL) weapon system to support a variety of air and missile defense applications. The partnership combines both companies’ expertise in directed energy to build a best-in-class HEL solution capable of delivering superior, combat-ready protection for the warfighter on an accelerated timeline.