For building light fighters in India, Saab officials want government-to-government deal - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 18 April 2015

For building light fighters in India, Saab officials want government-to-government deal

While the govt talks up the IAF's need for a light fighter, Maharashtra CM, Devendra Fadnavis, in a Gripen fighter in Sweden on Wednesday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Apr 15

On April 10th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested France for 36 Rafale fighters, built by Dassault Aviation, to meet the Indian Air Force (IAF) need for 126 fighters. Since then speculation is rising about a second global vendor that might fill the gap, building light fighters in India, alongside an Indian partner.

In interviews with state-run broadcaster, Doordarshan, and with the daily newspaper, Hindustan Times, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar explicitly stated the IAF urgently needs light fighters, a requirement the Rafale does not meet.

Likening light, medium and heavy fighters to a scooter, car and bus respectively, Parrikar told Hindustan Times it would be wasteful to deploy a big, heavy Rafale where a smaller fighter would do. “Two people can travel in a bus, but that would be wasting resources”, he said.

For short-range, short-duration missions that are currently performed by the single-engine MiG-21, Parrikar told Doordarshan the IAF needs a light fighter, not the Rafale.

“Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. Tejas [Light Combat Aircraft] is a replacement for MiG-21. Or, if we build some other fighter under “Make in India”, that is also possible”, said Parrikar.

New Delhi’s growing and explicitly expressed interest in light fighters has been noted by Swedish company, Saab, which had offered its highly regarded JAS 39 Gripen E light fighter in response to the tender eventually won by Dassault’s Rafale.

Even as Parrikar talked up the need for a light fighter, Maharashtra’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday visited Saab’s facility in Sweden, where the Gripen NG fighter is built. From there he tweeted a photo of himself in the cockpit of a Gripen and a message saying: “It was great to be at the aerospace & defence company SAAB at Linkoping, Sweden. Promised a defence manufacturing policy in Maharashtra soon.”

Top Saab officials tell Business Standard that, even before Fadnavis, the chief ministers of UP and Gujarat --- then Narendra Modi --- had held discussions with Saab.

A top Saab official told Business Standard on condition of anonymity: “If we are approached by the government of India, Saab would be happy to partner the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) or an Indian private company in not just manufacturing fighters in India, but in developing real capabilities for building a single-engine fighter for the IAF.”

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has not yet approached Saab directly, speaking only through the media.

However, in 2012-13, the DRDO had solicited Saab’s help in co-developing and manufacturing the Tejas Mark II in India. Besides the similarities between the Tejas and the Gripen --- both single-engine, light fighters --- Saab had upgraded the Gripen D to the Gripen NG by replacing the General Electric F-404 engine with the more powerful GE F-414.

That is exactly what the DRDO plans to do for upgrading Tejas Mark I to Mark II specifications.

In 2012, DRDO chief VK Saraswat had sent Saab a “Request for Information”, followed in January 2013 with a “Request for Proposal” inviting Saab to jointly audit the Tejas design with DRDO.

As Business Standard reported last year (June 17, 2014, “Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful”) Saab proposed an 8-10 month long audit of the Tejas design, after which a fresh design would be jointly finalised and a manufacturing line established with Saab’s expertise.

Saab had proposed as far back as 2011 to co-develop the Tejas Mark II and roll it out from a new manufacturing line within five years. Saab had then demanded 51 per cent ownership of the joint venture company that built the new Tejas.

Saab says, in June 2013, when a joint design contract seemed imminent, a new DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander, took charge. He told Saab a foreign partner for co-developing the Tejas Mark II could be selected only through an international tender.

Now, Saab officials say they will insist on a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement, if they are to assist India in developing and manufacturing a light fighter in India. Under the UPA government, this would have been a deal breaker. Mr Parrikar, however, stated on Monday: “These important decisions need to be taken at government-to-government levels.”

The Saab Gripen has so far proved more popular in the international market than the Rafale. While Rafale has not yet found a single overseas buyer (Egypt and India have expressed interest), the South African, Czech, Hungarian, Thailand and the United Kingdom have acquired the Gripen. In addition, the Brazilian, Polish and Slovakian air forces have expressed interest. 


  1. When did the RAF but Gripen? Your facts are wrong as since of your arguments and apprehensions. I do follow defence as much as you do and I think sometimes you try to over engineer matters.

    1. The Empire Test Pilots' School operates Gripens for training. ETPS instructor pilots and students undergo simulator training with the Swedish Air Force, and go on to fly the two-seater Gripen at Saab in Linköping, in two training campaigns per year (Spring and Autumn). The agreement was renewed in 2008.

  2. Is there a re-think on the LCA's future?? It would be sad to see LCA go the HF-24 Marut's way tragically described as a fighter "..which died young!"

  3. The best replacement for Mig 21 is the Gripen or F16. In terms of ToT F16 is a better choice.
    But Gripen, even though it has many critical parts or systems from USA, it is still an excellent fighter. The Swedes have decades of experience of making affordable rugged fighters.
    SAAB's collaboration for making a Gripenized Tejas MKII is the best option. Here we not only get a superb fighter, but also crucial knowledge which no one in today's day and age will share. We must not only limit our thoughts to strengthen IAF but also expand it to making India a serious player in the aerospace industry.
    It's crucial to note that there must be only one state owned nodal agency which should deal with absorption of technology and building upon that for further improvement. The current set up of DRDO, ADA and HAL is more than enough for this job and it must not be disturbed.
    It's not the state's responsibility to set up private aviation or defense sector in the country.Doing so will bring into question the motives of this government.

  4. As much as we may hate the idea of Gripen killing the LCA there is no escape from the fact that LCA has lost the bus. The LCA Mk2 program was sanctioned in 2009 and was supposed to fly this year. The first flight was resheduled to 2017 later. Already there are reports that ADA is pushing the fitst flight of Mk2 to end 2018 as even the detailed designed is not ready yet. All this in the long list of missed deadlines in LCA history whch continues today as LCA again missed the schedule for SP2 delivery by march end. At this rate the Mk2 may see the light of the day in 2025 and probably later. The schedule proposed by ADA for Mk2 flight testing is hillarious given what we have seen with Mk1. Its time for Modi to take a call and put an end to this sham.

  5. The LCA Mk2 should be accelerated even 80 of these fighters which has the IAF has committed to buy would start rolling out for series production only by 2018-19 or later.they wont accept Mk1 version beyond 40 nos. more so, if SAAB has to set up a unit with an Indian partner here in maharashtra or any other state it would take several years. therefore a G2G deal should also ensure that SAAB supplies some Gripens in fly away condition atleast untill the localized production starts after 2020.if the IAF beleives in nos. then both LCAs and Gripens are needed..

  6. Are you astro-turfing? Why would India buy Gripen NG which costs 145 million USD per plane when it can buy Rafale for 125 million USD? Who told you that Indian government was even interested in it?

    Are you manufacturing news? That's shameful !!

    1. Gripen costs 80-70 million USD

  7. @ Satish Pradhan

    The RAF has not acquired the Gripen, but the Empire Test Pilots School has used the Gripen for fast jet training of RAF pilots since 1999.

    Have a read:

  8. The ultimate irony is SAAB trying to wriggle its way into IAF through the light fighter route when it has lost the competition under Medium Multi-Role Aircraft (MMRCA) tender.

    What people fail to realize is that Gripen NG proposed under MMRCA RFP was close to specifications stipulated for Tejas Mk2. Allowing SAAB into the tent at this stage when India needs to focus its energies into production of Tejas Mk1 and development of Tejas Mk2 would not be a welcome move.

    Last thing India needs is to dump Tejas Mk2 on one pretext or other and again go for a foreign light fighter. If SAAB is engaged, it should be strictly in a manner of external consultant with definite mandate.

    Also, GOI needs to speak in one voice; saying Tejas OR ‘some other light fighter’ will replace Mig-21 in IAF service is creating confusion.

    Coming to success of Gripen – it would be important to also read up on what goodies were offered by the Swedish to sell their fighter.

    Not to forget the fact that countries which bought Gripen were looking for a light weight fighter to begin with. And apart from F-16, Gripen is the only option in town. And that too, from the European stable.

    So, Swedish have been happy to offer 110%-150% of the deal value as Off-Set to Europeans- compare that India’s piddly 30% requirement. Not to forget that few countries have fighters on long term lease!

  9. The whole thing sounds bloody sinister!! If it is just a threat to HAL to pull up their socks and deliver on Tejas then it is OK. If it is serious bid to execute a bogus make in India farcical deal and pretend that we get technology and are making aircraft then we better kiss good bye to self reliance and accept that we are a bunch of technically lousy people who love to be in eternal political or economic bondage.

  10. Er Colonel, from being a supporter of ADA and the Tejas, I've noticed that you've now moved to supporting the Grippen, without providing any discernible reasons for the same. I loved your detailed pieces on the Tejas, and cheered when you stood up for the HTT-40 in the face of a recalcitrant IAF. What is the reason for this sudden change of heart - are you privy to information that shows major, unresolvable issues with the LCA program that only a collaboration with Saab can fix?

  11. Dr. N. S. Reddy says ---

    A monumental mistake in Indian political and defense history was to give up completely on HF-24 Marut...
    All they needed was to rope in the unemployed European engineers to develop a robust jet fighter engine and avionics technology...
    HF-24 body was ages ahead at the tiem of its production...

    So never give up on Tejas I & II, and AMCA projects...

    With the way HAL production lines and their quality, India still needs a second line of single engine fighter bomber...

    Try to bargain hard with SAAB and Lockheed Martin for the best possible price and TOT and MOTs...These companies should help India with Tejas I and II fighter as a precondition...

    Look at the best deal they gave to the customers and make a government to government agreement and move on quickly to get to the required squadron level...

    Gripen may be good for India but I think Lockheed Martin F-16 will bring in immense clout to get future technologies to many of India's fighter programs...
    F-16 will integrate India into USA supply chain and will bode well for aerospace industry...

    Don't worry about Pakistan having F-16s too...USA can supply better AESA radar and BVRAAM missiles, and above all a superior Electronic Warfare (EW) suite to keep the Pakistanis at bay...

    It will also strengthen USA support for Indian UNSC, NSG, MTCR, etc organizations...

    India must seriously consider all of the options..
    World is no longer a safe place and having a competent defensive posture is very important...

  12. I hope this is NOT a plan to purchase the Gripen or F-16s. That would not just be the death knell of the Tejas, but the entire Indian aviation industry altogether.

    We would be repeating the HF-24 fiasco, which indeed was an IAF-sponsored fiasco. A fine indigenous fighter was sent to the scrapyard in favour of imports, simply because someone in the IAF didn't want to go the whole hog with our aerospace engineers.

    The "Make in India" slogan does NOT justify buying an imported design over the Tejas -- even if the imported option is manufactured in India. Let's not get drowned in such clarion calls to justify anything and everything.

    Just ask yourselves:
    1) Would South Korea buy Tejas jets over and above their indigenous T-50 jets ?

    2) Would Sweden itself buy Tejas jets over and above its Gripen C/D or NG ? Even if its "Make in Sweden" at Saab's facilities ?

    3) Would Japan buy Tejas jets over and above its own Mitsubishi F2 fighter jets ?

    Then why in the world does IAF even think of purchasing Gripens even we have Tejas fighter jets developed and ready to go, now ? This despite the fact that Tejas is equal, if not superior and much much cheaper than the Gripen.

    A wise Bollywood song rightly crooned, "This happens only in India !"

    Let's abandon the PAK-FA. Let's build the AMCA.

  13. What a fall - from F-35 to Gripen ??

  14. It makes sense to purchase and manufacture 100+ single engine fighters like Gripen or F16 under significant ToT to HAL.
    IAF has restricted the number of Tejas MKI to mere 40. It is banking on Tejas MKII which is almost half a decade away. Technology from either F16 or Gripen will help evolve the Tejas MKII into a formidable fighter.
    One of the prime objective of MMRCA was to create indigenous defense aerospace industry. With Modi's outright purchase of 36 fighters from France this dream has been shot down. Technology from MMRCA would've helped the Tejas MKII or even MKIII significantly. Since MMRCA has collapsed, it's now prudent to look for other options for our lofty goal of self reliance by partnering with the leaders in this field.
    The F16 is the best in every respect.

  15. Choosing Rafale instead of Gripen was itself a huge mistake byus for MMRCA but cant do anything about that. Now as modi govt is showing intrest in gripen some very legitmate questions need to be answered first.
    1) We didnt select gripen earliar bcoz it means killing of Tajes development as both the jets represent very similar features but looks like Swedish company understood this and now offering co development of Tajes mk2 version but simple question is that - why they will help us to make Tajes mk2 version a success when they understand very clearly that it would not only kill their chances to sell more gripens to IAF but also arise as a competitor in jet market and i think that is the reason they asked 51% shares earliar for similar deal but we correctly refused.
    2) As we all know our IAF attitude towards foreign maal the possibility is they may force MOD to discard Tajes mk2 in future and buy more gripens stating some performance issues just like they did in Pilatus Case.

    Now a flip side of this -

    1) Buying decent no of gripens can really help us to standardize and maintain our airforce in long run bcoz except Sukhoi fleet almost all other types of jets are more then 20 years old irrecpective of their upgrades so they need replacement in next 10-15 years. This means requirement of more then 450 jets.Saab will be more then happy and can certainly help us to relly improve Tajes mk2 if we buy near to 100 jets from them and rest will be tajes mk2.This way both the parties will be satisfied.

    Also the current nightmare of maintaining so many diffrent types of jets can be handled in future by structuring the IAF jet class as -

    Heavy Class - Sukhoi 30
    Medium Class - Rafale
    Light Class - Gripen and Tajes mk1 & 2

    2) We all know Russia Ditch us by offering more capable SU 35 to china and almost all the major weapon system they have to them like S400 and Amur submarines.This has reduced Sukhoi fleet reputation as the jet which can take care of chinese airforce as they would be knowing all the features and capabiities of our jets .Also they will help pak to study these jets as well.In this case we need jets which are out of reach for both China and Pak and i think if india buy gripens then it wont go to any of them in future.This will also open the door for buying latest american A2A missiles and stuff like JDAM which can increase our strength greatly.

  16. NSR says ---

    It is very important for India to make right decisions to not only meet the single engine fighter but also to make its economy grow and get integrated in the global system...

    The Gripen may look appealing but I think India must seriously consider F-16 too because it would be a game changer...

    I know for a fact that every Senator and Congressman district in USA is somehow involved with F-16, F-22,, F-35, C-130J, etc of Lockheed Martin...
    It would make all of them that much friendlier towards India and open up technology transfer to India...

    India must bargain hard with USA and also DS Ashton Carter who is strong supporter of India and its needs...
    Get the latest technology, TOT, MOT for F-16 and promise to let sub assembly makers to tie up and get into supply chain...

    This will solve the problem of acquiring systems for Tejas II and AMCA...

    I think it will help India with UNSC, NSG, MTCR, etc too...

    Also, there is no noticeable benefits like these with Gripen...

  17. I see people here vehemently hawking the Gripen or F-16. They're probably arms agents or touts from foreign companies, masquerading as Indians. If they're Indians, then God save this country.

    Coming to the Gripen, it does NOT offer India any "advanced" manufacturing know-how. The jet is an equivalent to the Tejas for goodness sake ! SAAB does not bring ANY "manufacturing know-how" by its Gripen, that we have not mastered via Tejas.

    In fact, it would be a travesty of indigenization, were Gripen to be bought by India. India would be sniggered at by SAAB's marketing executives, who would've sold snow to Eskimos and sand to Bedouins !!.

    DRDO must partner with Indian private companies to expedite the assembly of Tejas units, if HAL is overburdened. This will give IAF a much needed boost in numbers, help indigenization, and include the Indian private sector in the defence industry.


    Let's abandon the PAK-FA. Let's build the AMCA.

  18. If we think with our heart then fighters like Typhoon or Rafale look tantalizing. If we think with our head, then F16 or Gripen are the best option.

    Rafale or Typhoon simply are the wrong fighters to replace our huge fleet of venerable but obsolete low cost single engined Mig21 and 27s. From the very beginning we have got the script wrong.If our goal was self reliance via ToT then Rafale and Typhoon did make sense.But at an enormous cost.

    If we look at F16, it has the finest engine and radar among all the MMRCA contenders. In terms of cost it was one of the cheapest platform which has proven itself in numerous battles. Besides this, Lockheed Martin is known for it's prowess in designing one of the world's deadliest fighters. Having a chance to work with them would've exposed India (i.e. HAL) to the best practices in the most cost effective manner.
    It's time to consider F16 or Gripen seriously till Tejas MKII matures. More important than having adequate number of fighters for our air force is our ability to design and manufacture advanced fighters and other weapons system.
    People may question why SAAB or LM will part with valuable technology. Well the answer is no single nation can afford the cost of design, develop and manufacture expensive fighters on their own. They also need markets to sell their fighters. India, happens to be the right choice in all this regard with it's huge manpower, manufacturing and intellectual capital.

  19. Dont need Bloody Grippen or even Rafales! IAF is taking country for a jolly ride and looting tax-paying citizens royally! Tejas MK1-FOC has better STR & ITR than even F-16- Just add 100+ MIG-29-SMT/UPG and a few more of SU-35/MIG-35; until MK2 and AMCA join IAF ranks. No need to waste country's foreign reserves on very expensive Eurpoean a/c's!

    1. Tejas is meant to replace mig21 while Rafael/Gripen will replace mig27. AMCA is meant to replace others like jaguar

  20. Not really my discussion, but the americans starting to rethink all things at hand and this article might be relevant. link:


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