Saab, the Swedish defence giant, has expressed interests in setting up a state-of-the-art fighter jet factory in India.

Saab India Chairperson Jan Widerstrom recently said that they were ready to strike a lucrative deal with India on the basis of which the Swedish company will supply hundreds of military jets to the South Asian powerhouse. Although Widerstrom refused to share their plan to increase its presence in India, defence experts are of the opinion that Saab made the fresh offer in order to outplay its American competitor Lockheed Martin, which was also ready to supply around 250 single-engine combat planes to the Indian Air Force.

The senior Saab India official hinted that the proposed factory would manufacture ‘Gripen E’ fighter jets for India and other countries, stressing: “It is an unrivalled offer that will set new standards in aeronautical engineering excellence for decades to come, should India procure Gripen.”

Widerstrom met the press in New Delhi soon after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted that his government would try to reduce the country’s dependence on expensive defence imports. Despite facing China’s growing clout in the region, the Modi government raised the limit on foreign investment in the defence sector in an attempt to encourage tie-ups between foreign and local companies under the PM’s ‘Make in India’ campaign.

Widerstrom expressed hope that the Indian government would accept Saab’s proposal because it met the objectives of India – the world’s largest defence importer. “Saab is offering an industrial facility that will be the centre-of-gravity for the Made-in-India Gripen,” he insisted.

In 2016, India signed a contract with Dassault to acquire 36 Rafale twin-engine fighter jets for EUR 7.9 billion after major delays and obstacles over the cost and assembly of the planes in the South Asian country.

Earlier this week, Dassault CEO Eric Trappier confirmed that the French company would deliver first Rafale fighter jets to India in 2019. He said that discussions were going on between France and India as Dassault wanted to assist the South Asian country in manufacturing the domestic next generation Advanced Multi-role Combat Aircraft (AMCA) as part of the offset obligations of the fighter jet deal. However, Trappier believes that a larger order of close to 200 Rafale jets will be ideal to transfer high-end technology and manufacturing capabilities to India at a “competitive level”.

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]