India will need more than just 36 Rafale jets, says Saab


Swedish defence major Saab AB has offered to manufacture its fifth-generation Gripen fighter aircraft here with technology transfer to India, in a renewed bid for a pie in the multi-billion dollar Indian Air Force (IAF) modernisation plan.

Saab, which lost in the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender in 2011 – won by French firm Dassault Aviation SA – anticipates that the IAF will need more than the 36 Rafale fighter jets that India is buying from France to beef up its depleting fleet.

Saab is not only offering to set up a base here, but also help in development of aerospace capability for the next 100 years, along with partnership in developing the next version of the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the advanced medium combat aircraft, being developed and designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency.

Ulf Nilsson, head of Saab’s aeronautics division, said the company is already doing its homework and identifying partners for collaboration. Nilsson said the offer of technology transfer would be real as they are offering India “full system control” and “full software control”.

Saab (India) chief Jan Widerstrom said the company is also ready to stick by New Delhi’s negative list – as was made clear by defence minister Manohar Parrikar in an interview to PTI in November – when it comes to exporting fighter aircraft from India.

“We have almost an identical system back in Sweden when it comes to defence exports. It is decided by the government and we too can’t export to specific countries, which is almost the same as that of India,” Widerstrom said.

Saab chief executive officer Hakan Buskhe said the company will offer any help to the LCA project.

The IAF in October had said it would need at least six additional squadrons comprising 108 Rafale fighter jets or similar aircraft to shore up its capabilities. With the government cancelling the tender for 126 MMRCA, there is renewed hope in the aviation industry that India may go for fresh bids to fill up the gap.

Besides Saab, the US-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Dassault Aviation have offered their jets in line with the government’s push for Make in India policy.

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