by Nitin A Gokhale

Nitin A Gokhale (NG): Boeing already has a large presence in India. What are the plans for the immediate future as far as the Indian Armed Forces are concerned? Which are the new platforms that the company is willing to offer? You are in talks with Navy to sell F/A-18 fighter jets.

Pratyush Kumar (PK): Boeing has established the building blocks for a long-term defense partnership with the Indian armed forces. With 10 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlifters and eight P-8I maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft delivered and soon to come AH-64 Apaches and CH-47 Chinooks for India, Boeing is partnering with the armed forces on mission-readiness and its modernization effort. We are also supporting our customer’s training and services requirements.

Our immediate plan is to executive flawlessly on our current programs so our customers are satisfied with the level of support and the mission readiness of their fleets. Then we are looking at the capabilities down the road that our customers need – one example is the tanker requirement and how our KC-46, the most reliable and economical combat tanker built from down-up, meets that requirement. F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters are another opportunities. We look forward to the RFP coming out later this year, as stated by CNS Admiral Lanba. With multi-role capabilities, advanced technologies with room to grow and low acquisition and sustainment costs, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is the best choice for India. 

NG: Orders were placed on Boeing for 22 Apache and 15 Chinooks sometime back. How are these contracts progressing? What is the delivery schedule? You could also elucidate on your Indian partners involved in executing the contract.

PK: Boeing will start deliveries of the Apaches and Chinooks to India in 2019. Significant portions of the helicopters are already being made in India. Dynamatic Technologies manufactures the ramp and pylon for the CH-47 Chinook helicopter in India. Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) has delivered crown and tail-cone assemblies for the Indian configuration of the CH-47F Chinook. Manufactured in Hyderabad, the parts will be delivered to Boeing for final assembly of the 15 helicopters on delivery to the Indian Air Force. Boeing’s joint venture with TASL called TATA Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL) has commenced production of aerostructures for the AH-64 Apache in Hyderabad. The joint venture will become the sole producer of AH-64 fuselages globally, beginning deliveries in 2018.

NG: You have supplied the P8I Poseidon long-range Maritime Reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft to India. What is the status now in terms maintenance responsibilities of the fleet and possible additional sales?

PK: In June 2017, Boeing received a three-year contract for continued support to the Indian Navy’s P-8I fleet. In addition to field and logistics service representatives, the contract includes engineering, support and planning.

The scope will also include robust material support, including a 737-based component services program, which will be executed in conjunction with Boeing Commercial Aviation Services’ Fleet Services division. In January this year, the defence ministry approved the procurement of a simulation-based training solution for the Navy’s P-8I. The deal entails a 10-year comprehensive maintenance service for the module by Boeing.

The Indian defence ministry has also exercised options to buy four additional P-8I in 2016, deliveries for which will begin in 2020. We see potential for additional P-8Is in the future given India’s maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine requirements.

NG: You have an agreement with Tata Advanced Systems Limited. How is it going to take the Make in India initiative forward? Any other tie-up in the offing?

PK: Our JV with Tata Advanced Systems Limited, Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL) is the Boeing’s first equity joint venture in India and represents the future of India as a global exporter of aerospace products, systems and platforms.

TBAL is just the beginning of Boeing’s future journey of partnership with India. As we progress, we see this as a major step towards future opportunities to manufacture and co-develop complex aerospace and defence technologies.

As part of our F/A-18 Super Hornet ‘Make in India’ offer, we are proposing a world class advanced manufacturing facility in India with the very latest technologies. We are assessing Indian defence and aerospace companies to select as industrial partners in support of our proposal to supply its F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft to the Indian Navy.

NG: There are reports of Boeing exploring the Indian UAV market. Do you have any firm plans? Which is the segment you are looking at?

PK: Both our ScanEagle and Integrator platforms offer tremendous unmanned ISR capabilities to the Indian Navy, Indian Air Force and Indian Coast Guard and we are having those discussions with our customers.

NG: Boeing has recently sought to increase its footprint in India by expanding its engineering facilities. It is also actively participating in improving skill sets of Indian engineers and workers. Do you see this as a win-win situation both for India and Boeing Company? What are the future plans on this front?

PK: India graduates 1.2 million engineers each year, Bangalore alone has over 10,000 aerospace engineers. Boeing has been working with India engineering partners for a long time; now we are expanding our own employee base to harness India’s full potential by deploying our strategy of talent access and tapping into innovation in the third largest start up ecosystem in the world. Our engineering footprint in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad will see an exponential growth over next few years.

NG: Boeing has also started an innovation contest in India: Boeing HorizonX India Innovation Challenge 1.0 for entrepreneurs and young people. How has the response been?

PK. India is home to the third largest startup ecosystem in the world. We want to capture the imagination of these young entrepreneurs and bring our expertise and strategic investment to these ideas. We’ve been able to leverage T-Hub’s expertise and relationships in the startup ecosystem to help us run our first startup accelerator, HorizonX. The HorizonX India Innovation Challenge 1.0 is Boeing’s way of accelerating technology solutions that we feel will be key to unlocking the potential of Indian innovators. So far, the response has been very encouraging and it will be fascinating to see some radical ideas from the new-age innovators.