A restructuring of the Indian defence market has been a topic of discussion for many years. “But it is only after Narendra Modi’s reformist government was appointed in 2014 that the plans have reached a more concrete phase,” says Jan Widerström, newly appointed head of Saab India Technology, who has a decade of work experience in India.
The highly publicised ‘Make in India’ campaign promotes local manufacturing. One of its most ambitious goals is to have 70–80 per cent of India’s military equipment produced within the country’s borders. It is a complete reversal of the current situation, in what is the world’s largest defence market.
Rather than seeing it as a threat, Widerström sees the focus on domestic manufacturing as an opportunity for Saab. “If we act now and work on being part of India, we can take a piece of the pie,” he says.
One of the clear indications that change is underway is a new defence procurement procedure that is expected to make it far easier for foreign companies to do defence business in India. Foreign OEMs will be able to choose their own partners, and a range of restrictions on ownership and training will be eased.
Saab’s involvement in India stretches back to 1975 when the Carl Gustaf system was first supplied to the military there. This business continues to generate orders for Saab. Ten years ago, Saab made the decision to view India as a strategic market, and more than 300 people are now working with Saab-related businesses across the company’s operations in the country.
“We have been very successful with the IDAS self-protection system for Indian Air Force and Army helicopters,” says Widerström. “We have provided the AIS system along the total coastline – there’s about 7,500 km of coast around India – we have a facility for Barracuda camouflage production, and with radar we’re now starting to work with India and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).”
Saab is also involved in two successful joint ventures with Indian companies, through which it has shared knowledge with the local defence industry. The first, established with IT giant Tech Mahindra in 2009, involves Saab outsourcing R&D work. The second, Aerostuctures Assembly India, is Saab’s joint venture with manufacturing company Aequs at Belgaum. It has been in operation since 2013, supplying assemblies to Airbus.
Saab is supplying door plugs and cover plates for the Airbus A321 Cabin Flex Programme. The development and assembly takes place at Saab India Tech Centre and Aerostructures Assemblies India.
“If we act now and work on being part of India, we can take a piece of the pie.”
Jan Widerström, Head of Saab India Technology