What lies beyond India’s push for 36 (plus options) Rafale fighters from France? There’s been a great deal of speculation, fuelled mostly by aggressive offers to build fighters in India. The detritus of the M-MRCA campaign threw up a fertile new field simply because India is still nowhere close to operating the number of fighter jets it needs. Aggressive offers to set up brand new fighter production lines in India from Boeing Defense, Lockheed-Martin and Saab have energised the Make-in-India push for the MoD, but it has still remained largely fuzzy.
But now there’s some rare official clarity and it’s right from the top. Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was in Hyderabad today where he presided over the ceremonials at a Boeing-Tata event to establish a new facility that will build, for starters, AH-64 fuselages.
In a short speech, where touched upon the MoD’s Make in India plans, he is reported to have said, “If you want aerospace technology to come here and construct here, though I don’t commit anything for F-18. Let me put the disclaimer, that we are definitely in the process of developing one or two ‘fighter Make in India’ programs.“
It isn’t clear what the Minister means by ‘one or two’, but it certainly means at least one. Talk of an F/A-18 line in the country first blipped up on India’s radar last year when Boeing chairman Jim McNerney spoke about it at the India’s Time To Fly event in Delhi:
— Livefist (@livefist) October 16, 2015
The Minister today didn’t spare a dig at the press too. “When I say ‘disclaimer’, doesn’t mean that you are out. Two incidents that should not be linked with press, as Indian press is very imaginative; that’s why I’m making this statement.”
He has a point. Apart from a couple of reports, including this one in the trusty Stratpost, much of what has been said or written so far about India’s next big fighter contest remains in the realm of speculation, persistently muddied by the bean count of squadron strength requirements and how the MoD traditionally works. The truth is, much has changed, including in the methodologies being embraced by acquisition managers to shore up strength. It patently isn’t about plain numbers anymore — more on that in a future post, shortly.
As things stand, in India its a three-way contest between Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Saab for a highly lucrative Indian production line of their mainstay fighter jets: the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the F-16 Block 60 IN and the Gripen NG.
Livefist has learnt however that contest rules, which will be framed by October, could stipulate the requirement for a single engine fighter aircraft to preclude the tender going down the notoriously abortive path India’s MMRCA did, with its mix of medium and light twin/single engine jets. The Indian Air Force is understood to have submitted that narrowing the field to a single engine requirement would forestall any of the enormous comparison issues that bedeviled the earlier competition. The Ministry of Defence is yet to take a full decision on this though.
The Minister was clearly very pleased with the establishment of the new facility, given its a loud bang for the Make in India campaign, a push that has been criticised as largely cosmetic. With a facility that will churn out Apache fuselages for all future global customers eventually, the Minister didn’t hold back on the joy.
“Let me first acknowledge Boeing kept their word. A promise that was given to me after we concluded the Apache and Chinook deal; that after the offset this particular facility will be located in India and by shifting it from the place they already had the facility. Keeping their word, and I always think that those who remember what they say at the time of celebration and complete it afterwards are people to be noted for future references. Let me acknowledge Boeing for this deal,” the Minister said. That’s a lot to say in these grey, turbulent times for contracting.
ALSO READ: Livefist reported recently on Saab’s aggressive pitch on the Make in India Gripen NG too.