An unbelievable story: A telecommunication business developing high-tech defense industry

When Viettel started building its airborne warning system, military units of Vietnam were capable of upgrading old-generation radars only. In the world, only eight countries with strong defense industry sectors were able to build the system from scratch then.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Defense Minister General Phan Van Giang, and delegates tour defense industrial products developed by Viettel. (Photo courtesy of Viettel)

Overcoming numerous challenges, Viettel successfully manufactured its first complete radar, which was accepted by the Ministry of National Defense and put into mass production in 2014. Subsequently, the company achieved several significant milestones, such as exporting its radar products labeled "Made by Viettel" in 2017 and producing maritime warning radars that meet the standards of advanced countries in 2018.

The radar system was one of many high-tech defense products made by Viettel at the time. Over the last 13 years, the company has researched and produced numerous military and civilian technological "Made in Vietnam" products. High-tech industrial research and manufacturing have become a pillar of the group's development, generating thousands of billions of Vietnamese dong in revenue every year.

As of now, Viettel has researched and produced over 50 products in 10 high-tech weapons and equipment genres for the military, in addition to providing systems for cyber warfare and simulation models for training. The company has also mastered many core technologies, with 51 patents, nine of which have been granted by the United States. Viettel's products meet international production standards and feature similar capabilities to high-tech products worldwide.

At the 10th Congress of the Party Organization of Viettel Group in 2010, the group's Party Committee set the goal of becoming a nucleus of the high-tech defense industrial complex of Vietnam. Viettel's strategy was to develop the military-civil-telecommunications sectors equally, with the motto of becoming the owner of core technology and achieving full competitiveness in the international market.

High-tech self-sufficient in order to escape middle-income trap

According to Senior Colonel Tao Duc Thang, Viettel's Chairman and General Director, the development of a high-tech industrial complex is not only a desire of the company but also a requirement of the state.

Up to now, Viettel has researched and produced over 50 products in 10 high-tech weapons and equipment genres for the military. (Photo courtesy by Viettel)

Throughout history, science and technology have always been the decisive factors that determine the balance of power among nations and forces worldwide. If a country only relies on purchasing products and equipment from other countries or merely assembles and outsources, it will never have a modern high-tech background.

The high-tech defense industrial complex plays a crucial role in leading the innovation movements of powerful countries across the globe. Many nations are focusing on developing a modern defense industry to serve modern technical equipment and improve the combat strength of their armed forces. In Vietnam, the Party and State have emphasized the development of a national defense industry that is self-reliant, self-sufficient, dual-use, and serves as the spearhead of the national industry for many years.

Senior Colonel Tao Duc Thang asserted that becoming a high-tech defense industrial complex is not only a desire but also a necessary path that Viettel must take. He outlined three reasons to support this statement.

Firstly, Viettel believes that only by being self-sufficient in high-tech equipment meeting both military and civilian needs can Vietnam break out of the middle-income trap and avoid dependence on foreign suppliers. Secondly, being a pioneer and leader is a requirement set by Viettel for achieving breakthrough goals. Lastly, the business environment is increasingly competitive, forcing Viettel to shift its focus from being a leader in telecommunications to becoming a leading corporation in the field of industry and technology.

Developing technology in line with modern tactical models

Viettel has set its sights on expanding its research and production of smarter, more accurate, and reliable weapons and materiel under the C5ISR model, which is a modern combat model applied in many countries with advanced military science.

Viettel aims to focus on information collection, transmission, and processing equipment in this field. Additionally, in the electronics and telecommunications industry, the group aims to master the infrastructure equipment of the 5G network, offer the 5G service on a large scale, and export 5G chipset products for network infrastructure equipment.

Testing the made-by-Viettel radar product (Photo courtesy by Viettel)

Viettel has also built an Internet of Things (IoT) platform to develop connection standards for IoT devices, contributing to ensuring information safety for  Vietnam and its people. Furthermore, Viettel has researched green energy technologies, with a focus on energy storage and usage management to ensure savings, efficiency, and reduce emissions into the environment.

In the defense sector, Viettel intends to leverage 5G technology to enhance the quality of reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance, logistic and processing systems, and contribute to increasing efficiency and using new methods of control and command. The trend of widely applying technical equipment and automatic robots in the defense field is one of the key factors driving the group’s market growth.

High-tech and dual-use products

Viettel Group believes that its high-tech defense products have potential applications in civilian sectors such as UAVs, remote sensing satellites, and simulation model systems. To further this aim, Viettel's Science and Technology Development Fund intends to invest heavily in the development of both defense and civil technological products based on the former. The ability to create dual-use products is critical, as it not only adds value but also enhances the group's competitiveness. However, leveraging dual-use technology can be challenging because there are countries with strong industrial and military technology capabilities, but they are unlikely to develop high-quality and technologically advanced civilian products.

Viettel's personnel studies military information products. (Photo courtesy by Viettel)

Viettel's strategy is to set ambitious goals and explore breakthrough ways to achieve them. Its shift from military to dual-use product research initially focused on areas where it had strengths, such as telecommunications systems, electronic warfare systems, optoelectronic systems, and simulation systems.

The group has already mastered core telecommunications infrastructure technologies such as switchboards, messaging systems, real-time billing systems, IMS systems, 10Gbps and 100Gbps transmission devices. Moreover, it has successfully tested new platforms and solutions for civilians such as IoT Platform, AI Camera, lithium battery controller, and smart power. As a result, the group has created hybrid shared platforms between military and civilian sectors using the latest 4.0 technology achievements.

Viettel's future direction is to quickly develop and master both hardware and software, as well as important digital ecosystems. This is seen as a key factor in advancing Viettel's pioneering and critical mission of creating a digital society.

The group's ultimate goal is to establish a modern and intelligent telecommunications-information technology infrastructure that serves the country, while ensuring the nation's self-sufficiency of technology and the security of national networks and information, particularly in the defense and security fields.

Mastering important core technologies

Viettel has been preparing for over a decade to become a key player in building a high-tech industrial complex. Today, the revenue from high-tech industrial research and production accounts for an increasing proportion of the group's total revenue.

Optoelectronic products researched and developed by Viettel Hi Technology Industries Corporation

Viettel has successfully conducted research and developed numerous "Made in Vietnam" military and civilian technology products, mastered important core technologies, and obtained patents in developed countries. The group has also successfully manufactured many products, both military and civilian, that have equivalent or superior features compared to similar products from developed countries.

In operation, Viettel has identified its initial strength in software - the core of the product and the strength of Vietnam - and has been working towards mastering hardware, especially chipsets. In particular, Viettel has optimized its dual-use capabilities by leveraging the latest and most modern technologies and techniques, which, after being applied to the defense area, can also be used for civilian purposes. This approach has led to the creation of market-leading and internationally competitive products, which not only improve the defense potential but also help drive the country's economy forward.

Translated by Trung Thanh