Saab touted as possible replacement for Boeing in India's prestigeious Tejas domestic jet fighter project

subscriber | 22 August, 2008

NEW DELHI. India plans to "seek help" from European arms manufacturers Dassault Aviation and Saab AB and their likes to replace Boeing as lead consultants in the country's homegrown Tejas jetfighter project. This if US Government regulations limit India's ability to export the light jetfighter aircraft, reports Indian business newspaper Mint.

"We have handed in an offer a tender document to them but we have not received any response yet. India¹s own jet fighter project is about as old as Gripen's, our own fighter, so we think our technology is suitable for them and that we can help them out. A co-operation would also give us a possibility to get to know them which is also important in relation to the large tender for 126 jetfighters where we are taking part", says Jan Widerström, Saab's country manager in India.

Mr. Widerströml doesn't want to give any estimates on what kind of fees that could be involved if Saab would become involved in Tejas.

The possibility to work with Tejas has become a possibility since USA appears to stick to its demand to have a say over end user certificates in all cases where US strategic technology is involved.

Tejas, which is said to be the lightest supersonic jetfighter available on the market, undergoes a test flight period at present, where various loads of missiles are also tested. The Indian Government has so far accepted to purchase 20 Tejas, the overall plan is to produce 220 Tejas for the Indian Air Force. Delivery of the first Tejas light jetfighter is set to 2012.

The Tejas project is India's first homegrown jetfighter project for many decades and as such it carries a lot of prestige. The new fighter plane will replace the Indian Air Force's Jaguar and Mirage 2000 planes.

The project is not directly linked to India's ongoing procurement of 126 larger jetfighters, valued at 12 billion dollars, where Saab is up against Boeing, Lockheed Martin, EADS as well as Russia's MiG-35.

It will be difficult, though, for American manufacturers, states an industry source, to win the contract if the US is limiting India's ambitions to re-export the Tejas.

Tejas is, like Gripen, a one engine, computerized fighter and it has similar capabilities.

Saab's is seen as one of the frontrunners for the India jet fighter tender.
The company promises massive technology transfer as part of an offset-package ­ a strategy the company successfully pioneered in South Africa where the first Gripen of 28 has been delivered to the South African Air Force. Saab's US competitors are lobbying hard to get rid of offset as part of the deal.

Indiascan Confidential

Saab’s is seen as one of the frontrunners for the India jet fighter tender. The company promises massive technology transfer as part of an offset-package – a strategy the company successfully pioneered in South Africa where the first Gripen of 28 has been delivered to the South African Air Force. Saab’s US competitors are lobbying hard to get rid of offset as part of the deal.

Saab's interest in Tejas is almost entirely linked to the larger jetfighter contract. The company applies similar tactics in India as it did in South Africa, where Saab and its then partner BAE Systems won a groundbreaking contract to deliver 28 Jas 39 Gripen.

After a few more successful contracts in Eastern Europe Saab has good reasons to be optimistic about further contracts in like-minded countries which are independent enough to be able to turn down offers from super-powers.

India might be a too large chunk to chew for Saab. Technically and pricing wise Gripen is probably competitive. You get a lot of value for money.

And possibly it can work, if Saab's offset trade lobbyists are doing their job and can convince Indian top politicians, defense-, industry- and investment bureaucrats as well as Indian private counterparts alike. But it is an enormous undertaking. And Sweden does not have the kind of clout and contacts with India as it used to during the Palme-Rajiv Gandhi time. In South Africa Saab benefitted from massive Swedish support to the ANC during the liberation struggle. There are leverages in India too, such as Swedish Aid for many years - which incidentally are being phased out - but not to the same extent.

Intense individual networking, at a level and pace never done before, appear to be the only way forward. The selling point to a broader Indian public would need to be massive job creation based on technology transfer. This is where the main competitors have a weakness. The US in particular is prohibited to transfer technology. This, Indian's are hoping, could change after the US elections if Obama-Biden wins.

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