Swedish based aerospace and defence giant Saab AB, is viewing India as one of the most strategic market for its Gripen aircraft. Saab which has been catering to Indian demands for over four decades has now been approached by the Indian government to co-develop a single-engine fighter multi-role combat aircraft.

The company here is betting big on its Gripen NG aircraft, which it says is the latest smart fighter in the world. Saab has made detailed presentations to the government and stands committed to develop India’s aerospace ecosystem through unmatched technology transfer.

Karthik Kakoor from Life of Soldiers speaks to Jan Widerström, Chairman, Saab India Technologies regarding his company’s offer to the Indian Air Force.

Karthik Kakoor (KK) : Saab is a pioneer in aerospace technologies. The latest product that was rolled out of Saab’s line was the Gripen – E aircraft. How is the program evolving and when is the aircraft expected to make its maiden flight?

Jan Widerström (JW) : Since the unveiling of Gripen E in May 2016, the programme has seen great progress. Validation and verification activities such as tests in rigs and simulators have been performed and the ground test period is in full swing. The model based development has been implemented successfully. “Power on” and engine starts are just two examples of important milestones that have been accomplished during the last few months.

Preparations are on for its first flight and the program is on track as per the schedules.

KK : Indian Air Force is on the pursuit for an able fighter and Saab is believed to have received a letter seeking its interest in the program. Can you take us through Saab’s detailed offer to India?

Summing up Saab’s offer, according to you, what will the country gain if it downright selects Gripen also where would you place IAF after 10 years of signing the contract?

JW : We will provide the Indian Air Force with an Indian-built combat aircraft of the future, with next generation technology. We are ready with a blue print for setting up aerospace facilities in India that are at par with our establishment in Sweden; an aircraft that is ahead of its contemporaries; a platform for building future aircraft and, most importantly, a ready-to-roll Make in India plan.

We are offering real technology transfer. We do not attach strings to our technology. Saab is committed to India and will deliver the best industrial cooperation and technology transfer over the life of the programme—providing what India’s armed forces and industry wants and needs.

Our vision is that in the coming decades, the Indian aerospace industry develops and manufactures fighters that can compete with the best in the world and Saab is committed to support India in that development.

Jan Widerstrom, Chairman and MD, Saab India Technologies.

KK : If it is a single engine powered fighter that IAF goes with, Gripen will undoubtedly lead the fray. Your closest competitor perhaps maybe the Lockheed Martin manufactured F-16. What unique capabilities would you leverage upon to gain substantial mileage over the Falcon?

Gripen is in operation with a select few countries as against Lockheed Martin’s F-16. Lockheed has been stressing about the gains Indian markets stand to make if the ‘world’s highest produced’ jet is selected. How does Saab plan to counter this and what exactly will India gain on the global arena?

JW : Gripen E is by far the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world, with not just the latest radar, sensors and electronic warfare systems on board, but also the unique ability to highly customize the aircraft and integrate existing and new missile systems.

Gripen can perform a wide range of missions such as Offensive Counter Air, Defensive Counter Air, Air Policing, Cruise Missile Defence, Close Air Support, Air Interdiction, Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD/DEAD), Maritime Strike, Strategic Attack, Sea Surveillance, Tactical Air Reconnaissance and Non-Traditional ISR. These missions can be performed around the clock in all types of weather.

Gripen will give the Indian Air Force the flexibility to tailor its response to 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. Gripen does not tie its operators into fixed alliances or agendas, or a specific country or supplier of weapon systems – it will not require the Air Force to cede control of key systems and technology to other governments or agencies. With Gripen, India alone decides how it acts.

Gripen E is based on Distributed Integrated Modular Avionics (DIMA) platform software that allows software and hardware upgrades to meet all future needs and possibilities of the next generation. Ours is the latest technology and built to be constantly upgraded, which will be setting the pace for decades to come.

KK : Saab has steadfastly offered its help in setting up an aerospace ecosystem in India. What exactly will Saab offering India under this initiative? What will be the gain for India’s maturing aeronautical fraternity?

JW : Our aim is not to transfer an old assembly line that we don’t want anymore. We will set up a complete aerospace ecosystem and build a full spectrum of capabilities. We are offering 100% technology transfer, full system control and full software control, under the Make In India vision. We will transfer design, development and manufacturing capabilities. We believe everything can be done in India including production planning, creation of an independent supply chain and research & development for the future. We are also keen on setting up a training academy to train pilots. In fact, the work done in India on Gripen will support Gripen programmes globally.

We see India as the engine for aerospace industry in the next half a century. Saab would like to be part of this potent future that new India is heralding for itself. We have the full support from the Swedish government for our India offer.

Saab Gripen Fighter

KK : Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Arup Raha visited Linkoping facility in June and even few Gripen. What were his views views about the aircraft and the facility?

JW : Saab appreciated the visit of Air Chief Marshal Raha and the opportunity to show him how Gripen can meet India’s needs for the 21st century.

KK : Saab till date has been doing substantial business with Indian private vendors. Can you list a few of your key partners and the commitments they have with the Gripen program? Further, if Gripen is selected how do you plan to enhance these partnerships?

JW : Saab has had an established presence in India for many years now – in fact, this year we completed 40 years of our collaboration with the Ordnance Factory Board for the Carl-Gustaf system. In the domain of aerospace, we have a joint venture with Aequs in Belgaum, Aerostructures Assemblies India, which is manufacturing assemblies for commercial and defence aircraft. Our Aerostructures division has a very large footprint across India – we work with companies such as Mahindra Aerospace, Tata Advanced Materials, Cim Tools and more. We have also set up the Saab India Technology Center, which is involved in R&D in collaboration with Tech Mahindra. Engineers at this center are working closely with teams in Sweden on developing the next generation of defence systems and, in fact, are doing a large amount of design and engineering work on the Gripen E.