The Swedish government will soon place a structured offer to India to push through the Gripen-NG fighter aircraft deal, a product of Swedish defence major Saab, which is also keen to develop production processes in India. Sweden offered the Gripen-NG deal to India when a high-powered Swedish trade delegation visited the country in February this year.
The structured offer could comprise a combination of technology transfer and setting up of a local facility in India to produce aircraft coupled with investment commitments, an Indian embassy official in Sweden said, adding that Saab has already prepared a blueprint for the Indian Air Force’s entire defence system. The IAF pilots are likely to take a test flying of Gripen, a light single-engine multirole fighter aircraft, by the end of this year.
Mikael Damberg, Sweden’s minister for enterprise and innovation, told FE that Saab, which has been in India for a long time, has a proven track record and instead of looking only at exports from Sweden, it was looking at how to develop capability and production processes in India to fit into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
“It has been one of the greatest successes of Saab International that many countries see that the business model is very attractive. Swedish firms and companies are doing a lot of investments in India. One of India’s successful strategies has been attracting international capital. Modern economies are not only about export. They are also about finding the right partners. There are very exiting partners in Sweden and the market in India is exiting,” Damberg told FE on the sidelines of a session of India Unlimited, an initiative of the Indian Embassy in Sweden.
Banashri Bose Harrison, the Indian ambassador to Sweden, said Saab has shown interest for a full and comprehensive technology transfer to India. Saab also has intentions to use India as a production base for supply to other countries.
Though Saab is not a government-run company, the Swedish government is fully backing the project to sell Saab’s Gripen-NG fighter to India.
Indian embassy sources in Sweden told FE that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven has already signed a joint commitment to continue dialogues in areas of aviation, air defence, combat training and maritime security systems. Following the agreement between France and India for sale and acquisition of 36 Rafale fighters for the IAF, Sweden gave a push to the Gripen-NG deal.
According to Damberg, India has the space to accommodate more than one supplier for acquiring fighter aircraft and Sweden didn’t hide its desire to get actively engaged in the aero space of Indian defence. But the Gripen issue was more at a level of dialogue and the Swedish government or Saab as a company was yet to make any structured offer. The offer might be structured on the lines of the terms set for Brazil in the $4.68-billion deal.
Other than Gripen NG, Saab is also hoping to supply advance surveillance system, electronic warfare, ground combat and naval systems to India expanding its cooperation with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Pipavav Defence, Kalyani Strategic Systems, Ashsok Leyland and others. But the Saab management hoped that the Swedish government would hold government-to-government dialogues in paving the way for cooperation in such areas.
“Our dialogues with India range beyond cooperation in defence and we have signed a number of MoUs with India to take forward the Sweden–India cause,” Damberg said, adding that life science was one of the strong areas where the two nations were working together.
Though the government-to-government talks were defence-centric, it was part of the Swedish government’s plan to use international partnership to drive industrial expansion and job creation within Sweden.
There are possibilities that the Swedish government could link the Gripen-NG agreement with the multi-sector industrial investment programme, which could see rise in trade between India and Sweden down the line. Sweden’s trade in India is expected to reach over $5 billion by 2017 from a level of $2.5 billion in 2015.
Damberg said; “Sweden’s position is very clear. We are a free-trade country and we would like the India-European Union free trade agreement (FTA) to happen. But no negotiation is taking place.” He further said the Swedish business community was keeping an eye on the long-pending Indian GST and it hoped it would ultimately roll out.
(The trip to Stockholm was facilitated by India Unlimited, an initiative of the Indian embassy in Sweden)