Aero India 2017: US defence major Boeing is keenly looking to bag the contract for Indian Navy’s multi-role carrier-borne fighter jets. Offering its F/A-18, Boeing has said that it is awaiting the final strategic partnership model from the Ministry of Defence, before it works out its ‘Make in India’ plan for the fighter jet. “We are excited by the offer in the Indian Navy for the carrier-borne fighter aircraft. If you look around the world, then the most lethal, undefeated platform which can look into the future for the next 40 to 50 years is the F/A-18. We will work with the Indian Navy to be partners. We have also noted very clearly what the Defence Minister said that if you want to buy a fighter it has to be ‘Made in India’. We will certainly take a close look at that at work through our partnership models to respond to the Indian Navy’s needs,” Pratyush Kumar, President of Boeing India told FE Online.
Asked whether Boeing has identified any partners for the F/A-18 project, Pratyush Kumar said, “We are waiting for the new strategic partnership model. We are awaiting that clarity from the MoD, but, even before that we have to get the supplier base ready. We are working with the Indian supplier base to figure out the gaps and work out a plan for this.”
The Indian Navy recently ‘rejected’ the indigenous LCA Tejas carrier-borne aircraft on the grounds that it is “too heavy”. It launched a Request for Information to procure 57 multi-role combat aircraft for its carrier. Six planes are said to be compatible for aircraft carrier flying. These are Rafale, F-18 Super Hornet, MIG-29K, F-35B and F-35C, and Gripen. It is being said that the Indian Navy would prefer a twin-engine fighter aircraft, which implies that F-18, Rafale and MIG-29K would fit the role.
The Indian Navy already has eight Boeing’s P-8I Poseidon long-range surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Last year, the Defence Ministry cleared the $1 billion deal for acquisition for another 4 P8Is. Kumar said that Boeing will start delivering these to the Indian Navy by 2020. “P8I has given unrivaled capability to protect our shores coast to coast, all of 7,000 miles of shoreline that we have. P8Is have become not only the eyes and ears of the Navy, but they are also a very lethal platform,” he said. Known as the ‘hawk eyes’ of Indian Navy give the Indian Navy a much needed boost for maritime surveillance capability in the Indian Ocean. The acquisition of four more P8Is is also significant in the backdrop of increased sightings of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean region.
Meanwhile, Boeing is making the Apache, Chinook attack and transport helicopters for the Indian Air Force. “As far as Apache and Chinook are concerned, we are in production as we speak, we should be able to deliver by 2019. We have set a partnership with Tata Advanced Systems to make the fuselages for Apache. The future, 2019 Apache will have the ‘Made in India’ fuselage,” Kumar said.
Boeing is also looking to contribute to the government’s Skill India programme and has already sent a proposal for ‘skilling’ 1,000 people a year. “We are investing across the entire eco system of aerospace and defence – engineering, supply chain and sourcing, manufacturing. We have a very comprehensive skill development programme. We sponsor a pan-India competition for aero modeling, which is anchored by IITs. We are working with IITs and ISCs for high-end R&D. We are also working on frontline factory training,” Kumar told FE Online.
Highlighting the importance of job creation, Kumar said, “The skilled workforce is a perishable skill. So if you train somebody and don’t give them work, then the skill degrades. So, if we train people, there has to be a way to absorb them into the workforce. On an average we look at 30-50 people per year per batch. We have a proposal with the Skills Ministry to expand that to almost 1000 per year, so that is 10,000 over the next 10 years,” he added.