Sweden's Saab and America's Lockheed Martin have offered to make their fighter jets, the Gripen E and F-16 (Block 70) respectively in India, if chosen by the Indian government.
India’s defence industry capability, especially on the fighter jet making front, is set to get an unprecedented boost with the Modi government looking to finalise on which company will make combat planes for the IAF. Sweden’s Saab and America’s Lockheed Martin have offered to make their fighter jets, the Gripen E and F-16 (Block 70) respectively in India, if chosen by the Indian government. Speaking to FE Online at Aero India 2017, Saab’s Robert Hewson said that what differentiates the company from the competition is the offer to build an entire eco system in India.
“What differentiates us from the competition is that when people talk about ‘Make in India’, you hear a lot about transferring assembly lines and manufacturing. Manufacturing is a tiny part of what is important – what India must have for its air power sovereignty in the future is the ability to design, develop and own those aircraft – not simply metal mashing and making somebody else’s airplane. The idea is to make an airplane for India,” Hewson, the Vice President, Head of Communications told FE Online.
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“It is not just about being able to manufacture, but you must also have the skill, knowledge and control of all the critical technology – from the radars, weapons, systems, data links – all that makes a modern fighter. We are talking about building an entire fighter technology eco system so that India can build Gripens that are Indian aircraft for today – you can take those aircraft and build an airplane without any strings attached to us,” he elaborated. “The huge range of design and development skill and understanding for different components would feed into new projects for the next 40 to 50 years,” Hewson added.
So, what percentage of the Gripen E, if chosen by India, would be made here? “All of it, if India is able to absorb the learning,” quips Hewson. “We want to create India’s Gripen. Our objective would be that pretty much all the entire aircraft be made in India. We are offering the real secret stuff that makes fighter combat systems. This is a long and complex process, it will not happen overnight. This will be as much Indian as India wants, as much as India can handle, and as soon as India is ready. We are using the same philosophy in our Brazil programme as well,” he said.
Saab is already in talks with major Indian defence players for a possible tie-up for this project. “We are waiting for the new strategic partner policy. We have talked to lots of potential partners in India over time. We have spoken to all of the major players,” Hewson told FE Online.
Meanwhile, Saab is also in talks with HAL for upgrading the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. “We are responding to the HAL tender to upgrade systems for Tejas. That will be a part of our ‘Make in India’ offering, something which will also move in parallel with Gripen, but will be very relevant to Gripen in a few years time,” said Hewson.
On its part, Lockheed Martin has said that it is willing to move its lone production line for the F-16 fighter jets to India. It has also expressed interest in exporting these jets out of India.
The Indian Air Force is in urgent need of multiple squadron of fighter jets to get next-generation air combat capability. With the ‘Make in India’ programme, the government is looking to develop the indigenous defence industry. All eyes are now on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to announce the new strategic partnership model so that progress on the fighter jet deal can be made.