6 minute readBoeing to clarify F/A-18 Make in India offer

A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet flying over RAF Fairford at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 | Photo: Saurabh Joshi/StratPost

A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet flying over RAF Fairford at the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 | Photo: Saurabh Joshi/StratPost

Boeing is set to meet the Indian defense ministry to offer details on its offer to set up an assembly line for the F/A-18 Super Hornet in India.

Shelly Lavender, President and CEO of Boeing Military Aircraft, told Indian journalists at the Farnborough Air Show 2016 held earlier this month, that Boeing and the U.S. Government would be meeting the defense ministry again to expand their proposal.

“We will be there later this month to go through the details,” said Lavender.

As reported by StratPost, the U.S. Government and Boeing had submitted proposals for the setting up of an assembly line for the Super Hornet in India, last April. At the same time, the U.S. Government had also submitted proposals along with Lockheed Martin for the transfer of the F-16 assembly line to India.

According to Lavender, Boeing’s big pitch here is its ability to leverage it’s commercial and defense businesses to create an ‘eco-system’ for the growth of the aerospace industry in India.

Outlining Boeing’s offer for the first time, she said, “When you think of Make in India, we’re the right partner to do that because we have such a global supply base to work with and we can also leverage our partners. So partners like – on the super hornet – Raytheon, GE, Northrop – how do all of us go together into India to help create that eco-system.”

“We believe we bring a lot of capability to India that no other competitor brings because there are no other competitors that have the commercial side and the defense side,” pointed out Lavender.

The Proposal

The kits are just the very beginning to get us started. – Shelly Lavender

“We’re (proposing) standing up a brand new line for the Super Hornet (in addition to the St Louis line). It would be a full-up, capable line in India,” said Lavender, clarifying, “The Super Hornet backlog is solid and we can see it clearly going out well into the 2020s.”

To begin with, Boeing has proposed the initial assembly of kits for the Super Hornet in India. “If you’re going to build an aircraft on Day 01, perhaps you don’t build all the parts in that factory on Day 01. We deliver kits and you assemble and do all the testing and the flyaway. Maybe you do that for a set amount of time. And then you start feeding in those other aspects as time moves on. On Day 01, it’s not the entire eco-system – magically sprinkle dust and it appears. It’s about developing it over time and how can we work together – perhaps we start with delivering kits to your industry and they assemble and then they deliver those assemblies to that final assembly plant – so its about working together to develop over time,” said Lavender.

“That’s just the start for say the first few aircraft,” she said.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to take an eco-system to a whole new level and that know-how isn’t just about fighters. That know-how is about aerospace. – Shelly Lavender

“By the time you get through your production run, it will be truly Make in India – structure, composites, parts – it’s how do we get it going and on Day 01, it’s some set of kits – and I’m not walking through the exact plan but you’ve got to start somewhere. But absolutely the intent and the plan is by the end it is truly Make in India and I think the fascinating thing here is we’re not starting from Ground Zero,” she said.

Make in India

With it’s supply chain, Lavender thinks Boeing is in a good position to Make in India. “Currently on the Super Hornet, we have 800 suppliers that provide parts, capabilities, talent to create a Super Hornet. Imagine the opportunity when we can take what those 800 suppliers are doing, transfer the technology and have that work down in India. That creates an eco system of contract management, supplier management, engineering, supply chain, manufacturing, testing, quality, customer experience, customer engagement,” she said.

Indian Suppliers

Lavender offered examples of Boeing’s existing work in India to bolster the company’s credentials for Make in India.

“We have many Indian suppliers as part of our products today. On our P-8s on our Apaches on our Chinooks – so this isn’t a stretch. There’re also parts for commercial – so we know industry well. We know the capability. We’ve been doing business for seventy years (in India) and its very capable. It has to be affordable and we completely agree and there will be investment involved to stand up additional capability. But for a production run of 90 aircraft, 100 aircraft, 200 aircraft – whatever it ends up being – that business case will pan out,” she said.

Not MMRCA

This contest to build fighter aircraft in India is without any RFI or RFP, without any laid down technical specifications. Lavender thinks that this time, the selection will depend more on the industrial offer and how it promotes Make in India.

“We have been advised not to consider this as an MMRCA extension or competition – this is completely different than anything – than MMRCA. Yes, it’s about the capability of the aircraft, of course, but this is more about the eco-system,” she said.

How Many Fighters?

Boeing has not made an offer contingent to a specific number of aircraft. This is because the defense ministry is considering proposals to build single engine fighters as well, with proposals from Lockheed Martin for the F-16 and Saab for the Gripen. And Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar has indicated on several occasions that his ministry could be considering the setting up of two new, separate fighter aircraft assembly lines.

“That depends on – am I going do a twin and a single, or do I do one? It depends on what that selection is. But even if there are two selected, I believe the quantity is high enough, because the gap is high enough that the business case will close,” said Lavender, adding, “I think each of the offers would probably have a different number in mind, so it wouldn’t be right for me to speculate to give you a general number.”

Boeing had pitched it’s F/A-18 Super Hornet for a 2007 Indian Air Force (IAF) tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), competing with the Russian MiG-35, Saab Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16, but was eliminated after the shortlist, which consisted of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the French Dassault Rafale. The Rafale was selected L1, but negotiations failed and the tender was withdrawn last year. The Indian government is currently negotiating separately for 36 Rafale fighters, off the shelf.

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