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Swedish aerospace giant SAAB AB, which is planning to manufacture here its most advanced multi-role fighter Gripen NG, says that it does not see India’s decision to procure French Rafale jets as a set back.

Mats Palmberg, Vice-President, Industrial Partnerships, SAAB Aeronautics, in an interview with BusinessLine says he finds the Indian market quite promising. Excerpts:

How hopeful are you in selling the Gripen to India?

I think the Indian market is quite promising and it is our firm belief that the proposal we have, which includes ‘Make In India’ building indigenous capability in all areas and the product itself is very well suited to fulfil the operational needs. We are confident, we understand there will be competition of course but we have a strong belief that we have a good solution.

Gripen fighters lost the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) bidding in 2011 to French Rafale. What makes you optimistic now?

I think the Indian side has now evolved in their approach and they are also taking a more mature approach through the ‘Make In India’ campaign. I think that would make us more successful in this perspective regardless of losing out the last time. And of course, we have continued to develop the product.

India recently bought 36 French Rafale jets although the original MMRCA deal got scrapped. Do you see it as a setback?

No. I think there is demand enough for fighters in India.

How do you plan to pursue your proposal with the Indian government for Gripen?

We have to continue to explain what we can provide. We have to be able to sell our concept to the Indian people. Discussions are going on.

When did the discussions for procuring Gripen resume after you lost the bid?

Discussions have been going on for quite sometime. Of course the big steps have been taken when our Prime Minister (Stefan Lofven) met the Indian Prime Minister in February. Before that the Indian President visited Sweden last year, so all this is encouraging. Many discussions are going on in many different areas which also support our ideas.

What if the Indian government decides to buy the Gripen off the shelf as it did in the case of Rafale instead of producing it in India?

We can live with both. But as I said, we are trying to grow our company. We are trying to grow our industrial presence in the world so we are totally happy to take the ‘Make in India’ road and even the government will be keen on that.

How do you plan to address the offset issue?

We plan to address offsets through our Make in India approach and that is to be understood through that. It should satisfy the Indian industry’s needs. Increasing Indian participation is part of our approach.

Do you find the new Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP) useful?

The DPP is good but we would like to see how the Strategic Partnerships plays out as that will help us plan at a later stage.

Do you have plans for 100 per cent foreign direct investment in India at a later stage?

I think it is advantageous to team up with good Indian companies to do business in India. It is good for India and good for us. We need partners that understand India and have local knowledge.

With the recent expose on Indian defense deals which were inked six-seven years back, does it worry you?

It concerns us to the extent that the people we work with have to be clean. We have to work with people that are transparent and reliable.

But you think big Indian defense players like TATA, Reliance and Mahindra have the wherewithal to support this kind of a program by the Gripen?

Well to a certain extent they have. But we have to play the key role because we know the product and how it works. But they are quick learners.

What about infrastructure support for the Gripen program?

Setting up the facility is a huge task but it is simple compared to building a supply chain. But I have good faith in finding industrial supplier — supplier of components and machine parts, tools. And they don’t have to be in the same place where we will be present. But of course, the logistics system will play a role here. The industrial corridor between Mumbai and Delhi gives us hope.

Source>> The Hindu

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