Jan Widerstrom, the Chairman and Managing Director of Saab India, believes that the Swedish aerospace major will be able to make India the net exporter of fighter jets in the coming years.

Widerstrom, currently in New Delhi to hold talks with the Indian government, has said that Saab is ready to set up a brand new production line in the South Asian country, if it manages to win an Indian Air Force (IAF) contract for manufacturing single-engine combat jets.

Talking to the local media a couple of days ago, the Saab boss said that fighter jets, manufactured by the Swedish company, could easily match any of the other twin-engine aircraft on the market. He also said that Saab’s next-generation Gripen E fighters would boost the IAF’s strength.

At the same time, Widerstrom admitted that it would be tough for Saab to win the contract as Dasault Aviation was ready to provide India with Rafale. Now, it depends on the price negotiations, he told reporters. In September, India signed a contract with the French company on the basis of which Dasault would supply 36 Rafale jets to the IAF in the next 30 months. With the IAF planning to purchase another 83 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), Widerstrom arrived in New Delhi to inform the Narendra Modi government that Saab, too, was ready to manufacture Gripen E for the IAF.

Ahead of his meeting with Indian Defence Ministry and IAF officials, the senior Saab official said that the Swedish company was even ready to offer full technology-transfer to India, apart from setting up a production line here. “We are not planning to move an old production line to India. Our offer is to build a brand new production line for the next generation fighters and the next after that. This will be putting India on the aerospace map as a net exporter of fighters,” stressed Widerstrom.

Despite acknowledging the fact that India took 25 years to purchase an advanced jet trainer from Rafale, Widerstrom said that the Modi government would not take that much of time to finalise a deal with Saab. He argued that India would certainly like to see itself as a regional manufacturing hub for Gripen and the Swedish firm would fully comply with Indian regulations on export of defence equipment. “Our business model is to work through partnership with countries and companies. We have the full backup of the Swedish government on this,” added Widerstrom.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]