Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab have joined a race for production of fighter jets under the ‘Make in India’ program.
The three fighter aircraft manufacturers which had earlier been rejected in India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender and have now proposed upgraded versions of the same aircraft they had pitched under the MMRCA program. Dassault had been declared winner in the deal which was subsequently scrapped.
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar earlier this year announced that the ministry is interested in setting up production lines for 'one or two' fighters at the earliest. India may announce a new fighter jet program next year. While the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and under-process Rafale deal will help fill some of the gap, India still needs one more line of fighter planes.
“I am not looking for assembly at all. I am looking for a company to join with an Indian partner and to start manufacturing here by Transfer of Technology (ToT) in most of the items. I know that 100 per cent ToT may not be possible and 100 per cent indigenisation is not possible. Even with so many efforts, LCA has only around 40 per cent indigenisation,” Manohar Parrikar had said in May this year.
India may select one of the three contenders, inferring from the minister's statement. With all three manufacturers keen on "making in India", though they have their own versions of what it means, a competition would be a must. Then there is Dassault whose CEO Eric Trappier has expressed desire to participate in any follow-on Indian fighter requirement after the deal for 36 fighters is sealed.
Lockheed Martin and Boeing have made elaborate presentations to the Indian Ministry of Defence (M0D) on manufacturing the F-16V and the F/A-18 aircraft respectively in India in the recent past.
Lockheed Martin’s Chairman, President and CEO Marillyn Hewson visited India last week to push the case for the F-16. The company wants to manufacture the latest version of the jets – F-16 Block 70/72 that will be produced “exclusively” in India.
Saab is buoyed by the recent visit of India's Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha at the company's Linköping production plant in Sweden on 10 June this year where he flew the Gripen NG or new generation.
“There are multiple areas that we are focusing on for India, be it fighter jets or missiles, each one of these deals would individually be worth billions of dollars. We are also planning to make huge investments in India for setting up manufacturing and training facilities,” India country head and Chairman Jan Widerström was quoted as saying in June.
“While certain parts of the Gripen E planes will be built in factories fully owned by Saab, other components will be manufactured jointly. We are talking to at least six large companies in India as the main partners, and several hundred for the supply chain,” Jan Widerstrom, chairman of Saab India had said in an interview in July.
Saab, Lockheed Martin and Boeing claim they have been "invited" by the Indian goverment to give presentations about manufacturing their fighters in India.
However, the big question is which manufacturer will India select?