Swedish defence major SAAB, which has fielded Gripen for the Indian Air Force (IAF) tender for 114 fighter jets, is looking for clarity on some provisions of the strategic partnership route of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), Micael Johansson, its president and CEO, said in an exclusive conversation with The Hindu. “India is important, and we see huge potential here,” he said.

“We are awaiting the Expression of Interest (EoI) from the IAF. It has been delayed a few times now. Last we heard, it is expected in the second quarter of next year,” said Mr. Johansson who is on his first trip to India since taking over the top post at October-end. “We are looking for how it is explained to us,” he said of the strategic partnership policy. The comments are significant as it is a concern shared by several foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

“We have said for long that we are willing to do a huge technology transfer, not only the manufacturing capability but also creating an indigenous capability to upgrade and work with the system. Because that is the key to add future functionality in the fighters all the time,” Mr. Johansson said.

Under the strategic partnership policy, foreign OEMs have to tie up with Indian private companies to build the products locally.

Elaborating on the grey areas, Mr. Johansson wanted to know whether they could work with several companies to optimise partnership, because certain companies were good at certain things. “Then how do we make sure that we do something that will create a sovereign capability in India?” Pointing out that they did not know what were the requirements for establishing partnerships for big projects, he said: “That is why it is so important to see what the EoI says.”

Recently, SAAB pulled out of the Indian Navy’s tender for six advanced conventional submarines under Project-75I, citing tough provisions and lack of clarity on the strategic partnership route, under which the tender was being processed.

SAAB has a major presence in self-protection systems, electronic warfare suites and camouflage materials. It is working closely with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Mr. Johansson said the company was setting up manufacturing capabilities along with HAL for maintenance of these systems. For instance, SAAB supplies self-protection systems for the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter. “The Light Combat Helicopter is important to us,” he said.

In civil aviation, the company is offering air traffic management solutions, including digital towers for smaller airports. Mr. Johansson said SAAB was also pitching its Aerobahn surface management system for civilian airports and airlines to cut down on money and fuel. This had been demonstrated at the John F. Kennedy airport on certain routes which have shown fuel savings of up to 30%, SAAB officials said.