In an interview with BW’s Vishal Thapar, Salil Gupte, President of Boeing India, discusses Make in India, defence manufacturing, what the Indian government and the US aerospace giant expect from one another, the need for clarity regarding a business case for foreign OEMs amidst a strong policy emphasis on domesticating the defence industry, among other topics. Excerpts;
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently met the Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun. What big ideas were discussed?
One was the increase in manufacturing capability in India. When I say manufacturing, I don’t just mean basic manufacturing (but) increased capability up the entire value chain. So, working with Indian partners to ensure that they go up the value chain from simple parts to simple assemblies to complex assemblies, to working with composite materials so that they’re able to contribute to more and more advanced platforms, both for domestic industry but also for export. And I think that was something that he (PM Modi) acknowledged that we had done well, but he wanted to see more of not just from us, but from all of us.
The other element that he noted was MRO, maintenance, repair and overhaul to support the operational readiness needs of both defence and civil aircraft. And that was clearly a huge priority for him. And that’s, I think, very, very impressive for a leader or a Prime Minister of a nation to get that specific about where he wants to see further development. He acknowledged very much what Boeing had done up to this point and appreciated it, but implied that he would like to see more from us.
Modi is a big statement leader. Did he convey that he would like a Boeing assembly line here in India?
I think he specifically talked about further opportunities in manufacturing and MRO. What he meant by that is open to interpretation, but he expects to see more, clearly.
Has Airbus stolen a march over Boeing in India in setting up an assembly line?
Not really. It’s simply a matter of timing of the campaign. The campaign that they were on that required an assembly line was 10 years ago. The campaign that we’re on that requires an assembly line, the RFP is yet to come up. So, when it comes out, we’ll respond to it and we will work forward on that. The timing isn’t driven by us. The timing is driven by when the campaign is there.
But is the setting up of a full-spectrum assembly line outside of the US still an issue with Boeing?
It’s depending on the requirements. Right now, our assembly lines are in the US because that’s what the market has driven us to this point. To the extent there is a need or a requirement to have that elsewhere, then certainly we’re going to make sure that we address that.
Building out the full-scale ecosystem to enable platform development and manufacturing and sustainment in it to ensure the best technology for the Indian services. The best operational readiness for the Indian defence services. And then a significant export capability from India. That’s to me is what Make in India is all about. That includes things like deep engineering capability. That includes things like full-scale manufacturing at every level from the smallest component, a wire harness all the way up to the most complex assemblies like the Apache fuselage that we make in Hyderabad. It includes all of those things. And if you’re missing any of those pieces, then it becomes difficult to execute the mission. So, all of those things have to be built up incrementally to be able to achieve Make in India. And that’s what I’m proud to say we’ve been working on for the last 10 years.
Following the overwhelming policy emphasis on Make in India, is there a case for clarity in the business case for OEMs?
Well, I think that what would be certainly helpful. We have set up an Indian company, Boeing Defence India. But there is now a question as to what it means to be an Indian company. And so, some clarity on that would be very much appreciated because again, we have set up Boeing Defence India with an eye towards being an Indian company the same way we do in other markets where, for example in Australia, we have had an Australian entity that has developed an autonomous platform for export from Australia and for use by the Royal Australian Air Force in partnership with the Australian government.
Are you saying that the subsidiaries of OEMs are not considered Indian enough?
At this point, we don’t know. There is where we seek some clarity, and that would be very much appreciated. Is there a case for the Indian subsidiaries of foreign OEMs to be given a greater play in the Indian defence acquisition procedure?
Absolutely. I believe there is, because some of us, like Boeing, have certainly built up that capability here already and we stand ready to utilise it to support the Indian defence services.