In what could be a game changer for Indian armed forces, Swedish aerospace and defence company Saab has offered to ‘Make in India’ the fifth generation of its foremost fighter aircraft the Gripen, also called Griffin.
The JAS39 Gripen was one of the contenders for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft tender floated by the Indian Air Force in 2011, which went to French aerospace company Dassault Aviation’s Rafale.
But given the IAF’s current scenario of a depleting fleet strength and acquisition procedure, the Swedish defence major has rightly predicted that India would be in critical need of fighter aircraft in the next few years.
As of now India has ordered just 36 Rafale fighter jets, not enough for 45 squadrons that IAF must maintain to have a leverage against both Pakistan and China. It currently has only 35; each squadron has around 18-20 fighters or a mix of aircrafts.
Besides this the inordinate delay of 30 years in the manufacture of much-publicized HAL Tejas light combat aircraft is an embarrassment suicidal for a country in a hostile region.
Ulf Nilsson, head of Saab’s aeronautics division, has offered to manufacture the company’s fifth generation Gripen fighter aircraft in India with full technology transfer to the country.
This new offer is in line with the Indian Government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Saab’s offer includes help in development of India’s aerospace capability for the next 100 years. They have also offered to assist HAL in speeding up the manufacture of Tejas – something that the public sector aircraft maker desperately needs.
Saab has also promised not to export fighter aircraft manufactured in India to countries that New Delhi has put on a negative list (read Pakistan and China).
“We have almost an identical system back in Sweden when it comes to defence exports. It is decided by the government and we too can’t export to specific countries which is almost the same as that of India,” Widerstrom said.
The Rafale deal between India and France entered rough weather largely due to Dassault’s reservations over technology transfer.
The Dassault Rafale also happens to be the costliest fighter jet of a comparable technology and capability in the world. Each unit costs more than USD 100 million. By comparison a Saab Gripen, which is almost as effective as a Rafale, comes at a much cheaper USD 70 million.
The Dassault deal between India and France was heavily criticized by experts who not only pointed at the bloated coast of the aircraft and the fact that it is not in anyway more effective than others of a comparable make.
A Rafale’s maintenance cost is as high as that of a commercial airliner without an earning model.
Even the French Air Force is not too keen about inducting more Rafales given the fact that the jet did not perform to expectations in Libya and Mali.
Brazil went for the Gripen over Rafale for the exact same reasons – cost and effectiveness.
Such were the complications with Rafale that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had to cancel the multi-billion tender for 126 MMRCA and settle for only 36. By comparison, a Gripen of a comparable make is equally powerful and could have fulfilled India’s needs.
Ever since its induction in 1997, the Gripen has found takers in as many as 12 countries across Europe, South America and Asia.
France is the only country that operates Rafale. Egypt and Qatar have placed orders, while Canada has agreed to purchase Rafales because Dassualt has agreed for full transfer of technology.
The single-engined Gripen is lighter and more agile than the Rafale, but with a lower combat radius. That could be removed in the 5th generation version. Also, India’s policy of defence is different from that of United States – its fighters never go deep inside someone else’s territory and blow up things just for the sake of it.