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Saab’s Vision of Make in India - Building a world class defence and aerospace industry

5 min read

By Ola Rignell

Ola Rignell - Saab India

The Indian Government’s vision for Make in India is clear: Indian defence industry needs to become self-reliant or atmanirbhar, boost manufacturing and create new jobs in manufacturing. Defence and Aerospace are meant to play a very important role in this process as drivers for innovation and technology injection. Recently, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh invited leading Swedish defence companies to set up manufacturing bases in India as he showcased India as an attractive destination for investment to produce military equipment and platforms. In an address at a virtual conference on India-Sweden defence industry cooperation on June 8, he said the government has initiated several reforms to help the defence industries to serve not only Indian requirements but also meet global demands.

Creating industrial supremacy

Saab´s commitment to the Indian Government’s vision is firm: We want to be the Indian company that, in close cooperation with our industrial network, fulfils the ambition to establish India´s aerospace industry as a world leader. The world’s biggest democracy deserves both Air Power supremacy - derived from the capability, availability and efficiency of its platforms – and also Industrial supremacy derived from the capability of its industry.

One could see Make in India as being about transferring old assembly lines from another country to India, and simply doing licenced production here, or we could look at what it will take for India’s defence industry to truly become the center of the next technology revolution in Defence and to produce the best-selling systems in the world. For that, Make in India should be much more than manufacture in India. We will have to look at Make in India as innovate, design, develop, prototype, source, build, test, redesign, manufacture, support and upgrade - in India, because Make in India will be successful only when it involves all these things. This is how Indian engineers will truly get the capabilities to create Indian systems that are the most technologically advanced in the world.

Write the manual, don't just follow it

One question that is often asked is whether Indian companies have the capability to absorb foreign technology. This question, again, assumes the old model of thinking – a model where the foreign OEM sends a blueprint and CKD kits, and the Indian company spends a few months understanding the blueprint and gets to work putting the kits together.

That’s not how technology transfer should work. Technology transfer has to focus on capability development. A company making rivets for a fighter aircraft shouldn’t be looking at a drawing and making a rivet. It should know why the rivet is that size, that shape, that weight. So it can go back and tell the tier 1 and OEM how to design a better rivet for the next generation aircraft.

And for certain, there are more companies in India, especially MSMEs, who are perfectly capable of writing the manual, not just following it.

True partnership – to share and cooperate

That’s the partnership model that we work with wherever we go. We choose to have partners, not suppliers. We bring them to our facilities in Sweden, we show them how we work, we train them there on quality and processes, so that they can go back and train their colleagues. Because that’s where capability is developed. That’s how our partner companies gain, that’s how we gain. That’s how we’re constantly improving and developing next-generation systems.

We might start with offering Swedish systems to India, but our long-term aim is to build Indo-Swedish systems that we can then offer to the world. That’s our DNA. Our divisions outside of Sweden don’t manufacture systems designed in Sweden. They create their own systems that they then sell to the world, including to Sweden.

Our South African division is making electronic warfare systems that are integrated on the Dhruv Helicopter in India. When we work with Tech Mahindra at our R&D center in Hyderabad, we don’t just handle IT support here. A large part of Gripen E programming and development work happens in Hyderabad.

Creating capabilities for sovereignty – and self-reliance

When we offer technology transfer on Gripen E, we talk about full technology and capability transfer. We aren’t thinking of what documents to email and blueprints to courier to Indian companies. We’re thinking about what centers of excellence to develop in India, which can support us in our activities around the world. Our plan includes university tie-ups and aerospace education. We’re proposing to export Indian-made fighters to other countries.

We also plan to collaborate with India’s research agencies and industry to develop the next generation of fighters. We’re already thinking of being here for the next one hundred years and beyond, building aerospace capability that the world will use.

We look at Make in India as Create in India. We look at indigenous total aerospace capability development that will bring self-reliance and independence in aerospace manufacturing, not just assembly lines and licenced production that will inevitably perpetuate the cycle of dependency on foreign suppliers. We see both Sweden and India gaining from this.

That is what we call true transfer of technology.