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We Know Our Price For Gripen Is Quite Competitive: Ola Rignell, SAAB India

SAAB India raised questions over the process which he said it is about 'control verses responsibility' under the Strategic Partnership(SP) model for the ambitious P75I program for the Indian Navy. Ola Rignell, Chairman & Managing Director, SAAB India speaks with Manish Kumar Jha over such issues and, especially, Gripen E that is about the new Tactical Software and new age weapon integration.

Photo Credit : SAAB India

What is your proposition for Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) 2.0? What are fresh ingredients for your proposal for Gripen E?

When it comes to the proposal, there was an Request for Information (RFI) reply submitted earlier, July last year 2018. Since then we have been interacting with the Indian Air Force. We have  submitted additional information. The baseline offer is already discussed. There are hundred and fourteen aircraft in accordance with the requirements from the Indian air force and 18 of them would be from Sweden, and the remaining 96 will be produced in India, together with the Indian partner, depending on the SP process. But within that scope, we will have the full transfer of technology. We will handle with our Indian partner, all the knowledge that is needed to produce the 96 aircraft. We first want to build an ecosystem-an aeronautical ecosystem in India together with our partner and Indian air force. 

We will give India the capability to actually produce the next generation of air crafts by themselves. If it AMCA or LCA whatever you would like to call them, we are ready to hand over full transfer of technology. 

As far as MMRCA 2.0 is concerned you have the mix of two types of engine- single and twin. How would you navigate through as you won’t have 114 with one configuration? How will the number mix and match as IAF has not decided so far yet? 

As we have seen the RFI, It does not depict if it should be single engine or double engine. Neither does it say anything about whether there should be a mixture of single or double engine within the 114.  Our offer consists of 114 single engine aircraft which we think, it would be ideal for the Indian air Force. When it comes to capabilities, performance and cost -not only their initial procurement cost but also for the life-cycle cost, Gripen is fit for the IAF When you get aircraft for 40 to 50 years, Life-cycle cost is even more important than procurement cost because that's why we have a big amount of money being utilized over time. 

How do you calculate the Life Cycle Cost (LCC) and reach up to a conclusion which according to you is substantially lower than the competitors? 

We have our track record. We have Gripen operational today in many countries- Sweden, Czech Republic, Hungary, Thailand, South Africa and now sooner in Brazil.  So, we have a very good understanding of life-cycle cost on the aircraft. We have also other independent people looked into LCC and verified. 

We are convinced that we have a very good offer and the life-cycle cost will give the Indian more bank to the bucks. 

You said recently that you have the best avionics and operating now among all the competitors in the fray. What are the elements that you are talking about? Could you define some of the elements of avionics in concrete terms?

When you look into the avionics of Gripen E, what we have the wide screen display which is more less entire cockpit. You have the possibility to customize depending on customer preferences. Also, the pilot will have the ability to personalize the display, it is very interchangeable. Within that display, we have integrated a new software where we have the ability to upgrade all tactical software rapidly.

So, what we have offered to India is to update tactical software capability.

What about the radars and other weapon along the Gripen?

Of course active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar; in weapons, we have offered broad weapons, where the prime weapons are the meteor missile. With MBDA SAAB is the partner for meteor missile. Meteor is a very long-range radar missile, we have a dual data link. Some have only one way data link. But we have dual data link. What does it mean? So when a missile is on its way to the target we can update data to the missile and we get data back from the missile. We get much better accuracy. So your hit probability will go up dramatically. So, Meteor missile will be a dramatic game-changer. Also, it is fully integrated in Swedish air Force. And some of the Gripen’s customers are on their way to get meteor missile soon. 

Are you already in talks with Indian Air force for such integration and also Indian weapon system? How do you look at Brahmos which is jointly on the Indo - Russian platform?

So far, what we have done is that we have replied to the RFI from the IAF. As you know the process currently, Indian air force is evaluating the reply and we are waiting for the Acceptance of the Necessity (AoN). Thereafter, the Expression of the Interest (EOI) which is to be sent out to all the interested OEMs and also the potential Indian partners. So, we have not discussed any specific platform. You can ask IAF as how they foresee integration requirement. We can integrate any weapons that is communicating with our computers. We have all the latest version of NATO compatible version. We have different weapons for different countries. In Sweden, for example, we are mostly utilizing western standard weapon. So as long as your weapon can communicate with our avionics, we can almost integrate anything. Of course, when you talking about missile of enormous sizes then it is different thing. But you have to talk to the Indian Air Force what they foresee  and what they want to integrate in 114 aircraft. But we can integrate anything if it is in sync with our avionics.

You propose to create such aerospace cluster in India. SAAB  had also organized conference with the potential partners here in Delhi. Could you share in details on your collaboration with Indian partners?

What we have done in India in the last two year, we started out inviting potential Indian partners. I think we had about 100 different companies attending. Conference was to perceive how are going forward. We also went to Bangalore and we had similar conference with local partners. And a month ago we had a road show together with our tier 1 supplier.  So, we tried to match our tier 1 supplier with Indian tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers.

We had some follow on discussions as well. We cannot name as currently we have to sign a no- disclosure agreements with them. During this trip, we signed up with three companies. We are preparing our networks both including tier 1 suppler from India and international supplier. But tier 2 and 3 suppliers are mostly from India. Today, we have production going on in India. 

For example, we are doing aero structures in Bangalore which are forthe international contracts, producing parts for Boeing and Airbus. We have put production into India already. it would benefit us because the quality is good and we also deal with the aeronautical ecosystem. In the same manner, we are working with Tech Mahindra in Hyderabad where we are developing software and hardware for other export customers. 

For the MMRCA 2.0, you also differentiate SAAB on the price point as you said with such offering it is worth for India. So, when compared with other competitors, are the price substantially lowered? What is price per unit?

We don’t know what other OEMs have replied to the RFI. What we know is what we have been offering to India and we know what we have offered to Brazil.  

If we go into open sources, you can compare what you have paid for a certain amount of aircraft. For example, in case of Brazil, for 36 fighter aircraft (Gripen) they paid about $ 4.9 billion and that includes all the weapons, design & development center. 

And currently we have 300-400 Brazilian going into training and facilitating. They have been through how to design, develop and produce in Brazil.  We are building a complete design and development centers in Brazil. We signed the Brazilian contract in 2014/2015. Yes we had contenders – more or less all western OEMs were there. But we were down selected. We delivered first Gripen to Brazil in August this tear. We now have Brazilian pilots and engineers working side by side. So that is what we included in our package. Come back to your question, we know our price is quite competitive.

SAAB questioned the policy lax in the strategic partnership model for P75I. Why did you withdraw from P75I?

There were two reasons why we withdraw from P75I. One was time schedule which was too short for us and second, what was depicted in the EOI for the submarines, we thought there was an imbalance between your responsibility verses amount of control. That is why we decided to withdraw. 

We are also currently participating in giving feedback on SP policy, as there is an ongoing review. So, SP policy is now utilized for naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) and the submarines. We are eagerly awaiting the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) and EOI. 

Over the modified SP model? Also, SAAB claims to have only submarines - A26 running and operational submarines- based on air Independent Propulsion (AIP). Is it true?

We will have to wait and see what will be depicted in EOI when it is published. And my guess is as good as yours when EIO will be published.  On AIP, I will have to correct you on that. AIP is up and running in already operational submarines in Swedish navy but also elsewhere. There are several navies today operating SAAB’s Stirling engine which is an AIP engine and gives capability to submarines of going submerged for a longtime. You can remain under water for a very long time. And yes we claim that we are the only supplier of AIPs today as fully operational system. Also, we have along track record of that system. We are offering to the same system for A 26 submarines which is the next generation submarine for the Swedish navy. 

There is a perception that you withdrew from P75I’s SP partnership because you wanted to focus solely on fighter program in a bold way rather than in submarines program? Or you really wanted to bring notice to key elements under SP model as in case of P75I program?

We participated in P75 I with the same ambition as we do in the fighter programme. We later on decided to withdraw from submarines but that was not the intention from the beginning as the reason mentioned earlier. We were here to compete for the order. We are as committed for the fighter procurement and we will be as committed to the new upcoming projects in India.  As you are aware we are competing for different missile program. but once in a while, there are circumstances that force you to withdraw and this was one.

Well. what I read and what I hear with the new BJP government that they are more committed to replace and bring new systems for the Indian Armed Force. From that perspective, I am hopeful that decisive decision will be taken going forward. We are waiting now for AoN and EOI.