Saab Offers Self-Reliance in Defence and Aerospace to India

In an interview with Stratpost, Mats Palmberg, Vice President, Industrial Partnerships, Saab, and head of Gripen India campaign, talks about the details of Saab's offer of an advanced industrial body if India selects Gripen.

The working name for this industrial body, which will be responsible for the final assembly and delivery of the 96 aircraft to be produced in India out of the total order for 114 aircraft, is INAC or Indian Aircraft Company. With INAC, Saab offers true transfer of technology, thereby enhancing Indian defence industry, and in the long run, aiming to assist the country in developing and producing its own fighters. 

On being asked what makes Saab’s offer different from its competitors, Mats says, “This is not the mere transfer of an assembly line. We will do much more than just setting up a production line for the Gripen. While other manufacturers talk about setting up an assembly line in India, we intend to take this much further, with our plans to encourage and support the coming together of a complete ecosystem of suppliers with capabilities far beyond that of the final assembly.”

Mats adds that INAC will have a potential to become a hub for development and production for India’s export market as well. It will be a long-term engagement that offers seamless integrations with Saab’s operations in Sweden and Brazil, and is also a candidate for future aircraft production in India. “In the longer-term perspective, we envisage INAC as an important partner to ADA, DRDO and HAL in the development and production of India’s next generation indigenous fighter, irrespective of whether Saab holds majority equity,’’ he says.

With its partnership with Brazil, Saab has already proved that it is capable of successfully transferring technical know-how to future Gripen operators. Gripen Design and Development Network (GDDN), located in the city of Gavião Peixoto, is where Saab, along with its Brazilian partner Embraer, innovate and develop defence technology for Brazil. GDDN provides an autonomy for the Brazilian Air Force, including logistic support and the integration of weapons and systems. Along with GDDN, Saab's aerostructures plant "SAM" (Saab Aeronáutica Montagens) which is responsible for the production of the fuselages for Gripen E/F, is also an important part of the Gripen Brazil program. According to Marcelo Lima, General Director of SAM, the plant currently serves Gripen fighter orders for the Brazilian Air Force, but it will soon be able to export worldwide.

About the difference between Saab’s Gripen program in Brazil and its offer in India, Mats says the key difference lies in the sheer magnitude of the order. “The opportunity to deliver Gripen to India will give us a substantial time-frame to generate large volumes. This will create a large number of possibilities to indigenise more of the product and have a broader long-term engagement with the Indian supply chain. In addition, our international partners will have a much deeper and broader engagement in India than what they currently have in Brazil,” he says.

In the last few years, Saab has been meeting with several industry members in India to develop an ecosystem for manufacturing Gripen fighters in the country. “We have already established provisional agreements regarding airframe parts with key Indian suppliers and we are working to reach the same level of confidence with our potential avionics suppliers. In turn, our main international partners are working very closely with us to either further develop their existing Indian supply chain or establish new relationships with Indian suppliers to meet those requirements,” Mats says.

About the location of INAC, Mats says that even though availability of skilled workforce is a very important criteria, Saab is quite flexible in terms of location. However, Mats does add that Saab would like to have its local and international partners in close proximity. Saab would also like to have close cooperation with universities to work on skill development and also for pure and applied research.

Updating on the current status of INAC, Mats says that Saab has a Day-1 concept in place; once Gripen is selected, the company can start sourcing piece particles and initiate on-the-job training for Indian engineers and technicians in assembly and final assembly. As a result, even though the first 18 aircraft will be manufactured in Sweden, India-manufactured parts and Indian engineers will have a significant contribution to make.

“Over time, the sourcing of piece parts will increase and the end-game envisages the manufacture of a vast majority of the piece parts for India’s aircraft at INAC in India. The Indian technicians and engineers trained in Sweden will form the core of our workforce at INAC, who will move back to India to prepare the launch of the production of the remaining 96 aircraft at INAC, after they are sufficiently trained and have acquired the necessary skills. In addition, our international partners for aircraft systems will be making the necessary effort required to build capability and optimise Indian content,’’ Mats says.

Read the full interview here.