Gripen versus F-16: The race to make single-engine fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) is heating up! Within months of US defence major Lockheed Martin’s announcement of a tie-up with Tata Advanced Systems for F-16 (Block 70) jets, Sweden’s Saab is collaborating with the Adani Group for the Gripen aircraft. With this tie-up with Saab, Adani will compete to manufacture fighter jets for IAF under the strategic partnership model. Gautam Adani-led Adani group has decided to focus on aerospace within the defence sector and had last year signed a Statement of Intent with Israel’s Elbit-ISTAR to make UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) as well.
Ashish Rajvanshi, Head of Defence & Aerospace at Adani Group says ‘Make in India’ is the focus of the tie-up with Saab. “We have to look at the road map over 10 years that how this capability (of building fighter jets) will become an Indian capability,” Rajvanshi tells FE Online. While acknowledging that the project would be a multi-billion dollar one, Rajvanshi says it is premature to comment on the investment potential. “It is a bit premature to talk about the investment potential because the Request for Proposal (RFP) has not yet been issued. What the government is looking for is not yet clear. I’ll not be able to comment on the degree of investment,” he says.
Adani and Saab plan to rope in a network of MSMEs to create the requisite ecosystem. “All of us have to carry our own weight. If we start doing what a tier-III company does then we will not be able to move anywhere. We need to think about the blueprint and understand who needs to do what,” he says.
But, is a 100% ‘Make in India’ Gripen fighter jet possible? Initially no, eventually yes, believes Rajvanshi. “Since the country is starting afresh, we cannot be too hard on the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) as well. We need to come up with a practical solution. The roadmap should lead us to indigenisation, but it will not start on Day 1. We have to look at the road map over 10 years…this is not going to happen as soon as we get the order or in the first lot that comes out of the facility,” Rajvanshi says.
Rajvanshi is confident that the Adani Group has the capability to partner with Saab to make Gripen for IAF if chosen. “Make in India is the biggest aspect of the deal. it has multiple elements; one is setting up the whole ecosystem with the suppliers, managing the whole supply chain; number 2 is the fact that India is an adventurous country and just having the knowledge to do mega projects in time, scope and cost have been Adani’s forte. All those capabilities that the SP (Strategic Partnership model) wished for are what we have actually done in many of the other sectors,” he elaborates.
Led by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, the Defence Acquisition Council recently finalised the broad contours of the strategic partnership policy. The policy has been cleared by PM Narendra Modi-led Cabinet. “The policy is expected to be implemented in a few selected segments, to begin with, namely, fighter aircraft, submarines and armoured vehicles. In future, additional segments may be added,” says the Ministry of Defence. The partnership model broadly involves the creation of two separate pools of Indian private companies and foreign OEMs. A tender for programmes will then be floated allowing the Indian companies to tie up with a foreign OEM and bid competitively. To meet the IAF’s need to raise fighter squadrons, America’s F-16 and Sweden’s Gripen have made the final cut. Both Saab and Lockheed Martin see potential to export these fighter aircraft out of India.