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Empowering Indigenous Defence Innovation: The ADITI Scheme and DefConnect 2024

Dr Shayesta Nishat Ahmed is a Research Analyst in the Defence Economics and Industry Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi.
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  • April 03, 2024

    The Innovations for Defence Excellence-Defence Innovation Organisation (iDEX-DIO), under the aegis of Department of Defence Production (DDP), Ministry of Defence, organised the DefConnect 2024 on 4 March 2024 in New Delhi. Raksha Mantri (RM) Rajnath Singh inaugurated the key event, which witnessed the involvement of notable stakeholders including the military, defence sector, emerging businesses, educational institutions and decision-makers, aiming to foster cooperation among them. The aim of the event was to

    facilitate meaningful engagements, showcase cutting-edge technologies [… developed by IDEX winners …] and […] to be a transformative platform for fostering collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the defence sector.1

    The RM, while delivering the inaugural address, stressed on the importance of achieving Aatmanirbharta in defence production. He launched the ‘Acing Development of Innovative Technologies’ with iDEX (ADITI) Scheme with the objective to “promote innovations in critical and strategic defence technologies”.2 The RM noted that iDEX has been expanded to iDEX Prime with the innovation grants being raised from Rs 1.5 Cr to Rs 10 Cr and stated that the intent behind these schemes was to enable India to transform in to a knowledge society. He expressed confidence that the initiatives like iDEX and ADITI Schemes will bolster the defence sector and reduce the reliance on imports.

    In the course of DefConnect 2024, Raksha Mantri Singh reiterated the significance of attaining self-reliance by reducing the dependence on import of weapon systems and stressed that “getting a hold on state-of-the-art defence technology [is] the most crucial aspect to achieve self-reliance due to the increasing role of cutting-edge technology in warfare in today’s time”.3 He outlined two approaches to achieving technological self-reliance—adopting the latest innovations from other countries or fostering indigenous capabilities through research and development (R&D).4 Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan noted that the event was a great initiative to connect the vision of MoD, services and innovators in the defence manufacturing sector.5

    Key Features of the ADITI Scheme

    iDEX was established in 2018 under the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO) as a ‘not for profit’ company as per Section 8 of the Companies Act 2013, to create an ecosystem with necessary infrastructure support and incubation in Defence by engaging industries, start-ups, MSMEs, even academia, for R&D and technology development. The ADITI Scheme, which is a sub-scheme within iDEX, encompasses a corpus of Rs 750 crore covering the period 2023–2024 to 2025–2026, and is to be administered by the DIO to encourage “innovations in critical and strategic defence technologies”.6

    Technologies deemed ‘Critical and Strategic’ encompass

    Satellite communication applications, advanced cyber technology, autonomous weapons, cyber weapons, nuclear technologies, advancement in semiconductor technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum Technologies (QT), advanced underwater surveillance systems and others.7

    Critical and strategic technologies will increasingly drive innovation and modernisation efforts of the Indian Armed Forces to bolster combat potential and capacity building. The ADITI Scheme aims to foster the development of critical and advanced technologies essential for national security, filling gaps where existing capabilities are lacking. Stakeholder interactions, including with the Armed Forces, start-ups, MSMEs, and academic incubators, underscored the need for increased funding for projects concerning critical and strategic technologies, as highlighted during the Ministry of Defence’s Chintan Shivir in July 2023.8

    The scheme offers grants of up to 50 per cent of the Product Development Budget (PDB) with a maximum limit of Rs 25 crore, potentially leading to a PDB of Rs 50 crore or more. The scheme is intended to be monitored by the team with the DIO Board chaired by Secretary (DP) ‘through partner incubators to ensure regular guidance and adequate resources for oversight’.9 The project consists of 6 milestones, with a payment limit of Rs 9 lakh per case, amounting to Rs 1,50,000 for each milestone, allocated for Partner Incubator (PIs) upon completion of each milestone by the respective challenge winner.

    In total, the estimated expenditure for PIs is approximately Rs 3 crore. These grants will facilitate research and development intended towards innovations in defence technology. Its objective is to accelerate the development of approximately 30 deep-tech critical and strategic technologies by 2026.10 These 30 technologies will primarily serve defence applications with export potential.

    Secondly, it aims to foster collaboration between start-ups, MSMEs and established industry players to bring these technologies to fruition, and reduce dependence on foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). The ADITI Scheme leverages the existing iDEX Scheme to streamline the development process. The Scheme endeavours to create a ‘Technology Watch Tool’, as a mechanism to close the capability gap in the armed forces, and to strengthen the country’s defence innovation ecosystem.

    The purpose of the ‘Technology Watch Tool’ is to bridge the gap between modern armed forces’ needs and defence innovation ecosystem capabilities, facilitating strategic policy formation and milestone monitoring. The technology watch tool will also ensure no overlap in technologies through technology foresight workshops. Within the technology watch tool, an estimated 3 per cent of the grant in aid amount is estimated for challenge winners and Partner Incubators (PIs) is expected to accommodate the specialised services required from external agencies and subject matter experts for the curation and evaluation of critical high-cost technologies.11

    The problem statements initiated under the ADITI Scheme will be termed as ADITI challenges. In the first edition of launch of the scheme, 17 challenges have been launched out of which three were from the Indian Army, five each from the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force and four from the Defence Space Agency.12 Furthermore, ADITI seeks to enhance these critical technologies through continuous development and integrate them with products and technologies from the existing iDEX scheme.

    Enhanced funding and collaborative efforts are essential for advancing defence technology, and national security interests. The embedded framework will also enable the integration of cutting-edge defence systems and technologies into the defence establishment. There are several important components with regard to implementation of the ADITI Scheme.

    Firstly, it provides support for up to two winners per challenge in the ADITI programme, with each applicant eligible for only one challenge at a time, ensuring a fair process.13 The Scheme primarily benefits start-ups, MSMEs and Partner Incubators (PI). A network of approximately 10 Partner Incubators is proposed to be established to offer specialised support to bolster India’s self-defence capabilities and defence exports by fostering the creation of innovative technologies and products.

    Moreover, there will be direct engagement with military and government agencies to align technology-driven requirements of the armed forces of the country. Stringent oversight mechanisms will ensure proper utilisation of government funds, including a comprehensive grant management system and close monitoring through an IT platform and dashboard. Lastly, any supplementary activities deemed necessary to advance the scheme's core objectives will be undertaken.

    In addition to launch of the ADITI Scheme, the 11th edition of the Defence India Start-up Challenge (DISC) was launched at DefConnect 2024 where 22 problem statements were introduced. Among these, four were from the Indian Army, five from the Indian Navy, five from the Indian Air Force, seven from the Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited, and one from the Hindustan Shipyard Limited.14 As part of the DefConnect event, a technology showcase was also organised by the iDEX-DIO. It featured a variety of technology start-ups leading innovation in the defence sector, specialising in areas such as

    Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Undersea Detection and Communication, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Wearable Technology, Blast & Ballistics Proof Structures and Equipment, smart textiles and cyber security.15

    These start-ups represented cutting-edge technologies and innovations, offering solutions to bolster defence capabilities and strengthen national security.


    The launch of the ADITI Scheme, after the expansion of iDEX to iDEX Prime on 22 April 2022, reflects the government’s commitment to promote innovations in defence technologies by Indian start-ups for the armed forces. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Interim Budget 2024–25 had also announced a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore to promote Innovation and Startups coupled with a new scheme for Deep Tech Startups in Defence.16

    The creation of the corpus of Rs 750 crore and the allotment of Rs 25 crore is well appreciated as the development of prototypes and hardware requires more capital. The significant rise in funding is widely acknowledged, recognising the greater financial resources needed for the development of new prototypes and hardware. The 30 identified critical and strategic technologies will largely benefit from this increase in funding.

    Defence innovation funding is being pursued using a dual approach, employing both the iDEX framework and the Technology Development Fund (TDF).17 The TDF aims to capitalise on the existing domestic capabilities within Indian industries, particularly MSMEs and start-ups.18 With these two strategies in place, the introduction of additional schemes with a larger fund pool however could lead to redundant efforts, a scenario that can be mitigated by integrating such schemes within these existing frameworks. Doing so not only prevents duplication but also facilitates more effective oversight of these initiatives.

    In conclusion, the ADITI Scheme represents a pivotal initiative towards achieving self-reliance in defence technology, aligning with the broader goal of promoting indigenous innovation and bolstering India’s defence capabilities. The coordinated efforts of various stakeholders, coupled with effective oversight mechanisms, are essential for the successful implementation of such schemes, ultimately contributing to national security and economic growth.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.