‘Gripen will give India the freedom and power to safeguard its interests’

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 09, 2018

JAN WIDERSTRÖM Chairman, Saab India

Jan Widerström, Chairman, Saab India, believes that Gripen is the future for the Indian Air Force (IAF). In an exclusive interview with BusinessLine, Widerström said the Swedish defence giant was committed to the government’s ‘Make in India’ plan, including full transfer of technology and transforming their proposed India facility into a regional hub for Gripen warplanes. Excerpts:

How optimistic are you about winning the single-engine fighter jet order for Gripen E?

We are confident that Gripen E meets the current and future needs of IAF with the additional advantage of being an aircraft that is at the start of its operational life. Gripen offers its customers a clear roadmap for future, effective and affordable air power. That is what sets it apart from any competitor. Gripen will give IAF the flexibility to tailor its response to the changing levels of threat, across the full range of defensive and offensive scenarios. Gripen will give India the freedom and power to act as required to safeguard its interests. We believe that India is in need for an aircraft like Gripen.

What is your plan for Gripen E under the ‘Make in India’ programme for defence?

We have a blueprint for a comprehensive ‘Make in India’ programme, which will include the setting up of manufacturing and maintenance facilities; transfer of state-of-the-art technology; setting up of an aerospace ecosystem in India; creation of a local supplier base of ancillary systems; and employment of a well-trained Indian workforce. We will build the world’s most-modern aerospace facility and ecosystem in India.

It seems that the issue of full transfer of technology (ToT) has become a stumbling block for the OEMs under the Strategic Partnership policy of India. What is your stand on this?

There is no issue on transfer of technology, and we will abide completely by the terms of the Strategic Partnership policy of India. We have always consistently communicated to the government that we will abide by the terms of the Strategic Partnership that would be set for the single-engine fighter aircraft programme, and will undertake transfer of technology to the chosen partners.

Are you willing to go for 100 per cent ToT on Gripen E?

Saab is fully committed to technology transfer to India in connection with the Indian procurement of Gripen E in accordance with the Strategic Partnership model.

With more than 50 per cent of the components in Gripen E having American content, how difficult will it be for you to go for full ToT in terms of approval?

There is no difficulty. When we talk about full ToT, we are talking about enabling transfer through the value chain, including all our suppliers. In fact, recently, we have started the process of enabling Gripen’s major suppliers, including the American firms, to meet with potential Indian partners. We see the transfer of technology as a seamless process between ourselves and our supplier partners.

It seems that the Defence Ministry is having a re-think on the single-engine fighter jet deal …

We are not aware of any such re-think. India has a large requirement of fighter aircraft. There is a significant gap between current numbers of operational aircraft and the objective, plus a large number of fighter aircraft will be retiring from service in the next 10 years.

The former defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, had said that India would have 120 operational Tejas aircraft in 2025, but this number alone is not enough to satisfy the shortfall. The only way forward is the acquisition of single engine aircraft after accounting for Tejas, Rafale and other fighters already under contract.

IAF has made it clear that they will need the single-engine fighter jets over and above the Tejas LCA [Light Combat Aircraft]. Does it come as a glimmer of hope to you?

We see Gripen as a complement to LCA. India has a large requirement for fighter aircraft. The Tejas is on its way to induction, and as we understand the Air Force’s fighter requirements, India requires a mix of fighter aircraft to meet requirements and numbers that cannot be met by Tejas alone. It has built the foundation for India’s aerospace industrial development in the last couple of decades. Gripen will not replace LCA – it will built on that foundation – and take it to somewhere new.

There will be a wave of future technologies, some of them developed in India, that will be integrated into India’s fighter platforms, led by Made-in-India Gripen aircraft. This will be the next generation of aerospace development in India. There will be shared technologies between Gripen and LCA, with common resources, the same suppliers in many cases. Both LCA and Gripen will gain from this.

India has a vision to export LCAs to friendly nations. Our view of India’s aerospace industry development will enable Indian suppliers to scale up to meet this vision. And that is the Swedish view of partnership.

How do you plan to make India into an export hub for Gripen E?

Our India facility will act as a regional hub for Saab, and will produce aircraft for export to the world in the coming decades. Our Indian suppliers will also become an integral part of our global supply chain.

Published on November 22, 2017

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