HELSINKI — Sweden is pursuing an ambitious "government-to-government" multibillion dollar (US) project to sell Saab's Gripen-NG fighter to India.
Saab was part of a Swedish government-sponsored, high-powered trade group that comprised many of Sweden's leading industrial corporations, including Ericsson, Volvo, ABB, Scania and BAE Systems Hägglunds AB.
The intergovernmental talks culminated with a joint commitment signed by Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "enhance dialogue" on defense in key areas such as aviation, air-defense, maritime security, combat training and simulation in the army domain.
"There is a general consensus that India wants to strengthen its defense capability. While the country will need to purchase, there is a strong confidence here in the capability of Sweden's defense industry. We did not conduct any concrete discussions on business deals, but we do see a great opportunity here for Sweden's defense industry in its entirety and Gripen is a very strong project. We naturally intend to continue talks," said Löfven.
"The Swedish view is that there is room for more than one supplier of fighter aircraft to India. It would seem that initial talks with India raised the prospect that a formal offer could be structured on terms that mirror Saab's $4.68 billion fighter deal with Brazil," said Henk Roetert, a Berlin-based political analyst.
Fundamentally, Sweden's "government-to-government" deal negotiating approach places any Gripen-NG contract within the scope of a much broader industrial-investment agreement with India, Roetert said.
The Swedish government's backing for the Gripen project, and its presence in India, will be pivotal in the process of a successful offering of the multi-role fighter to the IAF, said Håkan Buskhe, Saab's CEO.
Buskhe, along with group chairman Marcus Wallenberg, led the Saab industrial team that accompanied the Swedish government's industrial-trade group to Mumbai.
Löfven has promised to intensify bilateral trade and industrial contacts with India in support of Saab's pending Gripen-NG offer. As part of the government-to-government negotiations process, IAF pilots are set to test fly the Gripen-NG in Sweden later this year.
"Sweden's strategy will be strongly influenced by the Indian government's 'Make in India' Initiative," said Löfven.
The Swedish Cabinet's defense-led, government-to-government talks form a central part of Prime Minister Löfven's national economic growth plan to use international partnerships to drive industrial expansion and jobs creation in the domestic market.
The Gripen-version offered to India, as is the case with Brazil, would be based on technologies used in the Gripen-E multi-role jet.
In addition to the Gripen-NG, Saab is also hoping to leverage government-to-government negotiations to sell a range of other defense products to India; including advanced surveillance, battle management, electronic warfare and ground combat systems, as well as naval and coast guard systems.
In Europe, Saab has identified Finland's and Belgium's fighter replacement programs as those offering the highest potential in terms of success. Belgium is replacing its Lockheed Martin F16A/B aircraft, and Finland its entire fleet of F/A-18 Hornets.
Saab's Gripen-NG is one of five candidate aircraft in the Belgian fighter replacement program, along with Boeing's F/A-18E Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin's F-35-Lightning II.