Bengaluru: The Indian Army has ordered specialized sights from an Indian company under an emergency procurement plan to assist some of its elite units operating in both urban warfare and at the borders. Sources in the defence and security establishment say the order for two sets of sights was placed ‘recently’ as part of a spate of emergency procurements. The first contract is for 600 pieces of multi-functional thermal imaging binoculars for target acquisition. The second contract is for a multi-mission sight, which can be mounted on the helmet as well as on the weapon. The order was placed with Tonbo Imaging in Bengaluru.
Sources say the contract’s value is over Rs 100 crore, and that the procurement has been handled by the Infantry Directorate, adding that while earlier the Northern Command had procured one of these sights in smaller batches, this time the Army Headquarters is doing it. Also, if the systems, which will be delivered in 12 months, perform as expected, there will be a larger procurement order.
Multi-mission sights are lighter and better suited to close combat. The uniqueness of this product is that it can be worn on both a helmet and a weapon at the same time. ‘Weighing about 300 grams, the soldier can remove it from the helmet with the click of a button and mount it on a weapon instantly,’ a source explained. Tonbo Imaging is one of the few companies in the world that manufactures such systems. As part of the ongoing standoff in Ladakh, some of their products are deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Army’s discovery of Tonbo Imaging
The company – which exports sights and other systems to over two dozen countries and provides them to some Special Forces, including Israel and France – has been providing its products to the Indian armed forces for the past few years. During the 2016 surgical strikes, the Special Forces personnel used thermal sights supplied by the Indian firm. In fact, the company was discovered by the Indian armed forces during a joint exercise with NATO a decade ago. The US Army was using weapons that had Tonbo systems on them.
‘The Indians were told that this came from an engineering center in Bengaluru. The Army reached out to us at that point. Five countries bought our tech before India did,’ Arvind Lakshmikumar, one of Tonbo Imaging’s founders, told Mint in 2019. Initially, the company focused on the global market when it began commercial operations around 2012. According to sources in the industry, Lakshmikumar’s previous work with US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) allowed him to get early recognition for his products in the US market.
The company has come a long way. It has won a deal with Bharat Dynamics Ltd to indigenize new missile seekers for the Indian Army’s anti-tank guided missile program. Tonbo optical systems are also on some of the drone systems ordered recently by the Indian armed forces. Tobo Imaging was earlier this year named the winner of the Defence India Startup Challenge under the government’s iDEX (Innovation for Defence Excellence) initiative to modernize India’s infantry combat vehicle, the BMP 2.