New Delhi: Saab can contribute to the government’s Make-in-India and Skill India initiatives by setting up manufacturing facilities and training academies in the country, says Jan Widerstrom, the Swedish defence major’s India head and chairman. In an interview with Smriti Jain, he adds that the company welcomes the recent FDI reforms in the defence sector. “If India were to consider the Gripen fighter jet, Saab would be able to roll out the first aircraft from Indian soil in 3-5 years,” he says. Excerpts:
What is your take on the new FDI norms in defence? Will doing away with the state-of-the-art technology clause help open up the sector to more investment?
We see relaxation of FDI norms in multiple sectors as an important step towards increased cooperation between Indian and foreign industry; it’s in line with Make-in-India. We are encouraged by the government’s intent to facilitate ease of doing business for defence OEMs like us who are looking at expanding industrial presence in India.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said the government will take a decision on the fighter aircraft to be manufactured under Make-in-India by the end of the fiscal. Is the government taking much time, considering the needs of Indian Air Force (IAF)?
I believe this type of procurement is difficult; we have full respect for the fact that it takes time. There is a lot of money involved. And so if the government is able to reach some kind of conclusion before the end of the fiscal year, that will be an achievement since this is a very complex process.
You also plan to contribute to Skill India by setting up a training academy. You also have plans to set up a manufacturing facility. What is the scale of jobs you could help generate in India?
If you look at the entire ecosystem for supporting production, design and deliveries of a fighter jet, it would mean thousands of job opportunities. In fact, the complete ecosystem can generate jobs for 20,000-30,000 people. India has a large bank of highly trained and skilled engineers that Saab would need. But where I think we can contribute a lot is on the floor, on the workshop. Setting up aerospace industry requires highly skilled workforce and this is something that we have done in Sweden, Australia, Brazil. The first step would be to send a big number of Indian workers to Sweden and train them there, and then train the trainers, so that when they come back, it all multiplies. We have applied this system in other countries. We will also be setting up training academies.
In addition, we want to develop medium and small sized enterprises in India. There is a vast network of highly skilled companies that are ready to jump into the defence and aerospace business. As I said, the whole ecosystem will employ a lot of people—it will be a mix of people working directly with the aircraft industry that we are setting up, and those with all the MSMEs that will deliver sub-systems, parts and components.
If India were to finalise on the Gripen fighter jet for the IAF, how soon can you deliver the first jet?
It depends on the specific requirements of the IAF. It is a difficult question to answer. But 3-5 years from the date of the contract, we will be able to deliver the first aircraft from the Indian soil.
You are also in talks with HAL for the next generation Tejas…
HAL is now looking for sub-suppliers for major sub-systems like radar, EW (Electronic Warfare) and other material that would conclude the development of LCA MK 1A. We are in talks with HAL and are offering the latest AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar to HAL for Tejas under the Make-in-India umbrella. We are willing to set up the production line locally.
How do you view the imminent entry of India in the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime)? What are your plans for missile space in India?
This is a very positive development. India is increasingly becoming a leader and a role-player in the global arena, which we support 100%. Saab is not just talking about setting up production lines or assembly lines. We want to establish capabilities in the country, and we can support and contribute a lot in the missile domain as well.