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Committed To Create An Aerospace Ecosystem In India: Leanne Caret, President & CEO, Boeing Defence Space & Security

While the Indian government has begun to evaluate the 114 Multi Medium Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) 2.0 afresh, Boeing has offered its Super Hornet F/A-18 for the IAF and the Indian Navy. Boeing says the Super Hornet offers “affordable stealth” because it is designed to be more reliable and therefore costs far less to operate than other fighters. Leanne Caret, President & CEO, Boeing Defence Space & Security, in an exclusive chat with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha, charts out her plan to bring advanced aircraft manufacturing facility to India.

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Tell us about Boeing’s offer of Super Hornet for the MMRCA 2.0 and how do you intend to make the proposal to the Indian government. Can you highlight the new elements in your proposal that set you apart from the competitors.

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III is the newest capability that we are offering to the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, and how we approach ‘Make in India’ underscores our proven track record of keeping our promises and our commitment to a long-term partnership. The Super Hornet is the frontline multi-role fighter of navies and air forces around the world and is the most modern and the stealthiest aircraft in the competition. The US Navy recently awarded Boeing a three-year contract for 78 F/A-18 new Block III Super Hornets. Its technology insertions keep outpacing future threats for decades. The Super Hornet offers affordable stealth because it is designed to be more reliable and therefore costs far less to operate than other fighters. 

The Block III adds extensive capability upgrades that include enhanced network capacity, longer range, even better stealth performance, an advanced cockpit system and new sensors, with the life of the aircraft extended from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours.  

With the Super Hornet, the Indian Navy would not just get the most advanced platform but also tremendously benefit from US Navy’s know-how, technology and tactics. These would be transformative for India and further the defence partnership between India and the United States. 

Besides, we are excited about the public-private partnership that will bring together Boeing, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and Mahindra’s global scale, manufacturing and supply chain expertise as we build an entirely new advanced manufacturing facility in India. This facility, when completed, will be a state-of-the-art fighter production facility addressing the infrastructure, personnel training, and operational tools and techniques required to produce a next-gen fighter aircraft in India.

The government is also working on the indigenous AMCA programme and expects the winner of MMRCA to contribute. How does that work for Boeing?

The key to a successful ‘Make in India’ programme is building a globally competitive fighter manufacturing base. But doing this takes time and investment. Boeing has already started working with Indian industry and customers over the last few decades to do this. 

Boeing’s approach to building a 21st-century ecosystem for the F/A-18 Super Hornet in India is based on over a decade of our industrial commitment in India. We have been sourcing structural and electrical sub-systems from the Indian supply chain for our F/A-18 Super Hornets for years. Manufacturing fighter aircraft requires a modern production process including precision manufacturing, and if the F/A-18 is selected by India, there will be an additional investments that we will make to build the aerospace ecosystem. For this reason, the F/A-18 co-produced in India in a factory-of-the-future would be the most suited for AMCA programme. 

India’s defence ministry has approved the procurement of 10 more P-8I Neptune long-range maritime multi-mission aircraft for the Indian Navy. What will be new elements in terms of weapons and capabilities?

The P-8 has already proven itself as the most potent aircraft for anti-submarine warfare, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that has been selected by many countries around the world. The P-8I has given the Indian Navy an edge over other naval forces in the strategically important Indian Ocean region, and flies higher, farther and faster than other maritime patrol aircraft to detect, track and defend against more threats than ever before. 

India’s P-8I fleet completed more than  21,000 flight hours since induction and this experience may lead the Indian Navy to seek compelling features and capabilities for their future fleet.  We are working closely with the navy to deliver their future capabilities while maintaining the high state of readiness and low operating costs that the P-8 has a reputation for.

Boeing has invested in aerospace engineering, R&D and manufacturing in India and is already working with Indian entities like Tata.  Could you talk about the scope of collaboration with Indian partners?  

Partnership and collaboration is key to Boeing’s success around the world, and our partnership with India is a major focus for Boeing in its second century. While we have quadrupled sourcing from India in the last five years, we are also investing in talent, training and skill development now and for the future. Getting frontline factory workers ready for advanced manufacturing to deliver world-class quality is imperative for the aerospace industry. We have invested in our engineering centre at Bengaluru and Chennai, which has grown to a talented pool of 3,000 engineers. 

Boeing’s joint venture facility in Hyderabad with Tata Advanced Systems is delivering Apache attack helicopter fuselages for our global customers at a steady pace. In Bengaluru, we helped Dynamatic Technologies set up a line to manufacture critical components for the H-47 Chinook helicopter as soon as Make in India was launched in 2014. Dynamatic recently delivered 100 ramp and pylons. 

HAL is another one of our long-time partners that recently delivered the 150th gun bay door for the F/A-18. These are a few examples of our commitment to create a manufacturing aerospace ecosystem in India.

How do you look at the offsets under defence contacts? Any policy suggestions based on your worldwide contacts and delivery mechanism?

Boeing works closely with the countries we do business in to develop industrial engagement programmes that are tailored to their unique short and long-term goals and support the creation of enduring, meaningful partnerships. Over $1 billion of products and services sourced from India go into the most advanced Boeing aircraft across our commercial and defence businesses. 

Boeing has seven active offset obligations in India and we have exceeded all contractual offset milestones to date for all programmes in India. We continue to partner closely with the Ministry of Defence on how they document and sign off on that work.

India’s defence industry received foreign direct investment of a meagre $2.18 million in 2018-19. Being the leader in aerospace, could you share some of the measures that make India a more favourable destination?

We welcome efforts that attract investments in the defense sector. Based on our 75-year legacy in India, we look forward to working with our customers and partners together to build its aerospace sector.