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Saab is keen on making India a Global Hub for Next-Gen Fighter Jets

Swedish arms company Saab is keen on making India a global hub for next-generation fighter jets even as it competes with US defence major Lockheed Martin to provide India with single-engine fighter jets. Having created a robust R&D centre, it hopes to make India a defence equipment major. Saab India Technologies chairman Jan Widerström talks to ET's Shramana Ganguly on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2017. Edited excerpts:

How do you see Saab in India's journey to create its defence capabilities?

Jan Widerström: We began India journey in 2005 ­ the goal being to develop India into a home market. Wherever we have a substantial footprint, we develop that country as a home market. Like Sweden, Australia or the US and South Africa, we are keen to develop India as a home market. India is one of our main focus countries, where we are looking at long-term investments.

Defence does not happen in one day ­ neither in India, nor elsewhere. It takes time in Sweden.We took 18 years in Brazil before we got one contract. We have patience (as far as India goes), know the business and are here to stay.India should become a net exporter of defence equipment. That should be the long-term goal for India and we are ready to be a part of that story. We want to establish an ecosystem for creating capabilities.

How long does it take to develop a country into home market and where does India stand in your global aspirations?

Jan Widerström: It takes about 5-10 years. India for that matter, is already a home market for us. We are slowly growing our footprint here; manufacturing for the Indian Armed Forces and exporting out of India.

We are not here for one deal, which is big or small, but want to grow sustainable capabilities and be an Indian company. That's our long-term goal. On the other hand, everyone is here and there is a fierce competition. To be successful, you cannot do it on a quarterly basis as you have to be on the horizon.We have 600 products in our portfolio ­ from submarines to fighters and everything in between.We have 15% civilian products.

We are producing camouflage equipment in Gurugram and are targeting the Indian market as well.We are producing across facilities in India and have an R&D centre in Hyderabad with Tech Mahindra plus a JV in Belgaum for composites that are exported to Airbus and Boeing.

We are looking at India as a globalsourcing hub. We will start exporting electronic warfare chips out of India by mid-2017, in collaboration with Tata Power. We see a lot of potential while working with MSMEs. They are potential winners of Make-inIndia drive. Fighters would make big business deals. But we have to continue with the bread and butter of business.

Fighters would make big business deals. But we have to continue with the bread and butter of business. Hence, we are focusing on creating an ecosystem. We make systems for airports, surveillance for coast guards, produce electronic warfare systems, ground combat systems, and camouflage systems apart from an R&D centre. Our India turnover has grown ten-fold in the last seven years.

How significant is Saab India's R&D centre currently?

Jan Widerström: Our businesses from Sweden, Australia, South Africa and the US are already outsourcing their R&D to India. It is one of the biggest hubs outside Sweden.

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