In­ter­view: Jan Wider­strom, Chair­man of Saab In­dia Tech­nolo­gies Pvt Ltd

Jan Wider­strom, Chair­man of Saab In­dia Tech­nolo­gies Pvt Ltd., in con­ver­sa­tion with Neetu Dhu­lia of SP’s M.A.I.


SP’s M.A.I. (SP’s): In In­dia, Saab has been around for a long time in de­fence and civil ap­pli­ca­tions. Which busi­ness is grow­ing for you?

Jan Wider­strom: We have been around for quite some time. How­ever we started fo­cus on In­dia as a mar­ket from 2006. We opened this of­fice in 2007-08. Prior to that, we also did busi­ness in In­dia on a case-to­case ad hoc ba­sis. We have been here from day one but the fo­cus on In­dia as a mar­ket started in 2006. In the be­gin­ning we were look­ing at civil se­cu­rity which they now call it smart se­cu­rity. Go­ing back five to seven years, that mar­ket was very dis­trib­uted. It was dif­fi­cult to find and iden­tify as a for­eign OEM to iden­tify the busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Last time it was the Com­mon­wealth Games (CWG) and se­cu­rity sys­tem was sup­posed to be big. But what ac­tu­ally hap­pened was the CWG bought cam­eras from one guy, scan­ner from sec­ond and got the wiring done by the third guy. For us it was not an op­por­tu­nity. How­ever, in niche ar­eas like air­ports and har­bours, we are sup­ply­ing com­plete transpon­der and sen­sor sys­tems in­clud­ing the au­to­matic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem (AIS) transpon­ders for the In­dian coast­line. Within cer­tain niche ar­eas we have been suc­cess­ful and that in­cludes ground sur­veil­lance sys­tems for air­ports. We have got quite broad port­fo­lio of prod­ucts and so­lu­tions for air­ports.

We see tremen­dous scope in the de­fence. We are grow­ing. We are look­ing at the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP) and ‘Make in In­dia’ move­ment which I be­lieve is a very big step for­ward. It creates an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment on how to get the In­dian de­fence in­dus­try mov­ing, how to grow the in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The new ‘Make in In­dia’ con­cept is cre­at­ing a plat­form for the for­eign OEM to part­ner with both pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor. You can­not force a for­eign OEM to do busi­ness when it does not make busi­ness sense. Now they are cre­at­ing an at­trac­tive en­vi­ron­ment and the OEM can part­ner with an In­dian com­pany and ex­port glob­ally. It is a big dif­fer­ence.

SP’s: Re­cently you won a pro­gramme for the Air­ports Author­ity of In­dia for de­ploy­ment of sur­face move­ment guidance and con­trol sys­tems. Could you give de­tails of the same and will there be any more de­ploy­ment?

Wider­strom: We are in nine air­ports. It is sure one of the fo­cus ar­eas. The air­port mar­ket is grow­ing rapidly in In­dia. We see a growth in the air­port busi­ness and growth op­por­tu­ni­ties in har­bour se­cu­rity and man­age­ment sys­tems.

The rapidly in­creas­ing air traf­fic and sea­sonal fog con­di­tions for ex­am­ple unique to New Delhi cre­ated flight de­lays and can­cel­la­tions at In­dia’s sec­ond busiest air­port, the Indira Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Air­port (IGI). To safely ac­com­mo­date al­most 24 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year, the Air­ports Author­ity of In­dia (AAI), the air navi-

gation ser­vice provider for IGI, needed to pro­vide air traf­fic con­trollers with a re­li­able, ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the air­port sur­face traf­fic in ex­treme weather con­di­tions. To safely de­liver high lev­els of air­port move­ment, AAI de­ployed Saab Sen­sis Cor­po­ra­tion Ad­vanced – Sur­face Move­ment Guidance and Con­trol Sys­tem (A-SMGCS), im­prov­ing op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency and pro­vid­ing ac­cu­rate sur­veil­lance in all weather con­di­tions.

In ad­di­tion to air­ports in In­dia, A-SMGCS was also se­lected for Brisbane, Mel­bourne, Perth and Sydney air­ports in Aus­tralia, Ben Gu­rion In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Is­rael, Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port in China, King Ab­du­laziz In­ter­na­tional Air­port and King Fahd In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Saudi Ara­bia and 35 air­ports in the United States.

In mar­itime traf­fic man­age­ment and port se­cu­rity we have a strong pres­ence. The AIS in In­dia was in­stalled in 2012. We have 85 base sta­tions (light­houses and tow­ers), seven re­gional head­quar­ters, two con­trol cen­tres (Mum­bai and Visakha­p­at­nam), pro­vid­ing the In­dian Navy, the In­dian Coast Guard and the port au­thor­i­ties, ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions.

SP’s: Do you have any so­lu­tions for the Smart Cities?

Wider­strom: We are mon­i­tor­ing the Smart City move­ment which is now hyped in In­dia. We are look­ing at what would be the ac­tual evo­lu­tion.

For the Smart Cities we have var­i­ous prod­ucts and so­lu­tions in sur­veil­lance, mon­i­tor­ing, smart soft­ware, etc. We have smart soft­ware which on low-tech cam­era can give very high qual­ity im­agery, and that is ex­tremely ef­fi­cient. Also we have soft­ware to up­grade the ex­ist­ing cam­eras. We are cur­rently in the mon­i­tor­ing state and look­ing at where the Smart Cities con­cept is head­ing. I had an in­ter­est­ing meet­ing with the head of L&T re­cently in Stockholm and find that they are do­ing a lot. It was in­ter­est­ing to hear how they have been man­ag­ing the mar­ket. We have the prod­ucts and the ca­pa­bil­i­ties. SP’s: Could you give the de­tails about the Aerostruc­tures Assem­blies In­dia, hav­ing rolled out the first batch of A380 struc­tural assem­blies from Bel­gaum? What is the or­der like and will there be any more work for Air­bus from Bel­gaum? Wider­strom: We have a joint ven­ture, Aerostruc­tures Assem­blies In­dia, with Ae­qus in Bel­gaum in Kar­nataka. AAI makes aerostruc­ture assem­blies for Saab, for our Boe­ing and Air­bus pro­grammes. It is a ter­rific suc­cess story. We built it up in 18 months from noth­ing. One of the best an­swers on the project came from a Swedish prod­uct man­ager who said that the qual­ity at AAI is bet­ter or as good as what we get back in Swe­den. It is at less cost but same or bet­ter qual­ity. We ex­port to both Boe­ing and Air­bus from that fa­cil­ity and I see tremen­dous growth there. SP’s: Would you be part of the In­dia Avi­a­tion event in Hyderabad next year? Wider­strom: Yes, we are go­ing to par­tic­i­pate in In­dia Avi­a­tion.

SP’s: Way back in 1974 Saab sold Carl-Gustaf to In­dia. Have you any plans to pro­vide In­dia with mod­ern anti-tank sys­tems?

Wider­strom: We are ex­tremely proud of the Carl-Gustaf sys­tems. It is the back­bone of the In­dian Army to­day and we are con­stantly de­vel­op­ing that. The lat­est version is Carl-Gustaf M4 a man-por­ta­ble multi-role weapon sys­tem that pro­vides high tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­ity through its wide range of am­mu­ni­tion types. It is light­weight with more in­tel­li­gence and bet­ter per­for­mance. The am­mu­ni­tion is also new and with bet­ter per­for­mance. It is a global suc­cess story. In­dia is one of our im­por­tant cus­tomers. We have a li­cence agree­ment with ord­nance fac­to­ries and we work closely with them and are fur­ther de­vel­op­ing our re­la­tion­ship with ord­nance fac­to­ries.

SP’s: What are your plans for air­borne sub­sys­tems like In­te­grated De­fen­sive Aids Suite and headup dis­play?

Wider­strom: On the In­te­grated De­fen­sive Aids Suite (IDAS) we have re­cently got an or­der. That is a co­op­er­a­tion we have with HAL (Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited). It is top pri­or­ity for us to de­velop that busi­ness and work more closely with HAL. We are set­ting up pro­duc­tion and cre­at­ing pro­duc­tion hub in In­dia for that sys­tem glob­ally. We have started to build up the ca­pa­bil­ity. The plan is to move pro­duc­tion to In­dia and we hope we can ac­com­plish that in the near fu­ture.

SP’s: With the can­cel­la­tion of the ten­der for 126 Rafale medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA) for the In­dian Air Force, do you see any pos­si­bil­ity of the Saab Gripen re-emerg­ing on the scene as a pos­si­ble op­tion for the In­dian Air Force?

Wider­strom: With all re­spect for the In­dian Air Force, there is tremen­dous need for more air­craft in In­dia for sure. Now that they have closed the MMRCA deal and fi­nal­is­ing 36 Rafale air­craft in­stead of 126, we still see op­por­tu­ni­ties. Our mes­sage to the IAF in the last two to three years has been: “Yes, we have ex­tremely good prod­uct.” In­dia needs air­craft in big num­bers as a re­place­ment of the older air­craft in the fleet. We have a per­fect so­lu­tion and we re­spect the pro­cesses. They are busy on fi­nal­is­ing the deal with the French. We are here and we are ready to an­swer any ques­tions that the IAF or any­body else has.

SP’s: How does the Gripen com­pare with the Das­sault Rafale in per­for­mance? Do you feel that the Gripen would be able to ful­fil the re­quire­ment of the In­dian Air Force for an MMRCA?

Wider­strom: Rafale is a big­ger air­craft and yet the Gripen can do what­ever the Rafale can do. The lat­est Gripen air­craft is a mod­ern air­craft, lat­est gen­er­a­tion. We are wait­ing for the fi­nal sig­na­ture from the lat­est suc­cess in Brazil. It is an on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment. It is a small air­craft but as ca­pa­ble as the Rafale. If we get the pos­si­bil­ity to de­liver Gripen to In­dia then it would be in line for the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme. We are pre­pared to pro­duce and man­u­fac­ture here,

‘Make in In­dia’ is good news. It creates an en­vi­ron­ment for us to do good busi­ness. It is a win­win. We can do it with In­dian in­dus­try and with long-term per­spec­tive. We can ex­port out of In­dia to Swe­den or Aus­tralia or any­where in the world.

whether it is fight­ers, mis­siles or air de­fence sys­tems or any­thing. We are look­ing for­ward to the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme. The ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween us and some of our com­peti­tors is that our global strat­egy is that our home mar­ket is where we do busi­ness and it is not Swe­den. We as a small na­tion are more flex­i­ble. Whether it is In­dia, South Africa, Europe, US or Aus­tralia, we see our­selves as a global in­dus­try rather than a Swedish com­pany.

‘Make in In­dia’ is good news. It creates an en­vi­ron­ment for us to do good busi­ness. It is a win-win. We can do it with In­dian in­dus­try and with long-term per­spec­tive. We can ex­port out of In­dia to Swe­den or Aus­tralia or any­where in the world. I am really look­ing for­ward to this.

SP’s: Saab has formed joint ven­tures/part­ner­ships with var­i­ous In­dian com­pa­nies. Could you give an up­date on the pro­grammes in th­ese joint ven­tures? Is Saab plan­ning any more joint ven­tures and in which ar­eas?

Wider­strom: Other than the joint ven­ture with Ae­qus, we have in In­dia an R&D cen­tre in Hyderabad. It is a co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment with Tech Mahin­dra and we are out­sourc­ing R&D from Swe­den and Aus­tralia to In­dia. The cen­tre has about 200 employees and in to­tal we are 350 across In­dia. It is a very good suc­cess story. That is go­ing to be a growth story as well. We as a com­pany are in­vest­ing 25 to 30 per cent of turnover into R&D and our com­pany is unique glob­ally in that re­spect. We need to do that to be ahead of not the big­gest but the best and have tech­nol­ogy edge. Por­tion of that goes to In­dia cursrently by util­is­ing the huge bank of tal­ent of peo­ple who have Mas­ter de­grees and Phds. The engi­neer­ing bank in In­dia is tremen­dous. As part of the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme, it is im­por­tant that we make in­vest­ment not just in com­pa­nies but also in the right re­sources and ed­u­ca­tion/train­ing is one of them.

Saab has ac­quired 3.3 per cent of the shares in Pi­pavav Off­shore and De­fence Engi­neer­ing Ltd, at an in­vest­ment of MSEK 250 (around ` 235 crore). The in­vest­ment of­fers a solid plat­form for growth for Saab in the In­dian mar­ket. To­day Saab and Pi­pavav work closely to­gether in de­vel­op­ing the next-gen­er­a­tion Com­bat Man­age­ment Sys­tem (CMS), ad­dress­ing the cur­rent and fu­ture needs of the In­dian Navy and Coast Guard. Lev­er­ag­ing off of the pre­vi­ous work done with com­bat sys­tems engi­neer­ing, the joint ef­fort aims to de­liver a scal­able CMS for all pur­poses, pro­vid­ing the In­dian op­er­a­tors with su­pe­rior sit­u­a­tional aware­ness. The naval mar­ket is one of the big­ger ac­tiv­i­ties.

We have a sourc­ing of­fice in Ben­galuru, where employees from our Aerostruc­tures di­vi­sion man­age our on­go­ing re­la­tion­ships with part­ners such as Cim Tools, Ae­qus and Tata Ad­vanced Ma­te­ri­als.

SP’s: How do you rate the skillsets in In­dia?

Wider­strom: I would say as good as back home. The ex­pe­ri­ence in Hyderabad is very good. It started small and now it is gain­ing mo­men­tum and ev­ery­one back home sees it is good value for money. This will grow as de­vel­op­ing civil­ian and IT in­fra­struc­ture will take time. SP’s: Does Saab have any col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Euro­pean, Amer­i­can or Is­raeli aero­space in­dus­try for the man­u­fac­ture of air­craft for mil­i­tary use as well as the on­board sys­tems? Wider­strom: Yes we have world­wide col­lab­o­ra­tions. Gripen as such con­sists of num­ber of ma­jor sub­sys­tems. We have an Amer­i­can en­gine, we have co­op­er­a­tion with Selex on the radars. One of the ad­van­tages with the Gripen sys­tem is that we are not forced to go to one or two na­tions. For in­stance, if we are go­ing to man­u­fac­ture in In­dia with in­di­geni­sa­tion of the air­craft, it is go­ing to be eas­ier than other older air­craft be­cause of the Gripen’s mod­u­lar­ity and de­sign. Gripen is a huge global col­lab­o­ra­tion and it con­tains sub­sys­tems from all over the world. If we sell it to South Africa, they have their re­quire­ments, if we sell it to Thai­land, they have theirs, or to Czech­slo­vakia, they have their sys­tems. It is one of the key fea­tures as it is ex­tremely mod­u­lar in de­sign and eas­ier to adopt to global re­quire­ments. As a ma­jor aero­space player we are col­lab­o­rat­ing with a num­ber of com­pa­nies in a num­ber of fields.

SP’s: What are your plans to pro­mote your busi­ness in­ter­ests in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion?

Wider­strom: Cur­rently we have in­te­grated In­dia into the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Across the globe we have five dif­fer­ent mar­ket ar­eas and Asia-Pa­cific is one of them with In­dia, Ja­pan and New Zealand among other coun­tries. The ad­van­tage of this that co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Asia and Pa­cific coun­tries is grow­ing and we can tap on re­sources. We are in Korea and In­dia and we have the ad­van­tage of set­ting up pro­duc­tion ei­ther in Korea or In­dia or vice versa. We are closely in­te­grat­ing the Asia-Pa­cific mar­ket. We are try­ing to look upon it as one mar­ket, es­pe­cially in the naval do­main we see one big op­por­tu­nity and ad­van­tages. We see In­dian Navy buy­ing Korean ships.

SP’s: Tell us some­thing about the No­bel week?

Wider­strom: I am proud to say that I was part of the team which cre­ated this about 9 years ago. No­bel is such a good brand. It is such a strong name and peo­ple around the world would know No­bel more than they would know about Swe­den. The No­bel week has been a suc­cess and we have backed it. It is about re­search and tech­nolo­gies and for us it is a per­fect match. There are com­pa­nies such as ABB; Eric­s­son, At­las Copco and Volvo and to­gether we can show a strong front with the Swedish in­dus­tries. They are global in­dus­tries. For in­stance, the Volvo in Ben­galuru is mis­taken to be an In­dian com­pany and that is good for us. Five years from now, I be­lieve that same will hap­pen with Saab. The fo­cus of this year’s No­bel week would be Smart Cities. Eric­s­son will be there so also us and we will be tap­ping around No­bel and the val­ues sur­round­ing that. For the Swedish com­mu­nity in In­dia it is some­thing they can look for­ward to.

The No­bel week is unique to In­dia and it is care­fully han­dled by the No­bel Com­mit­tee. We are the only one do­ing this pro­gramme.

SP’s: Saab is en­gaged with the CSR ac­tiv­ity, please elab­o­rate?

Wider­strom: We have a school in Vi­jayawada and we are look­ing into ex­pand­ing the pro­gramme. We are look­ing into sev­eral other ar­eas, vo­ca­tional train­ing, sup­port In­dian col­lege stu­dents, etc. We also have schol­ar­ship for two years for univer­sity study. We have a skills train­ing pro­gramme, DEEP (Diploma Em­ploy­ment En­hance­ment Pro­gramme) de­signed to en­hance em­ploy­a­bil­ity of engi­neer­ing grad­u­ates. It is hosted by col­leges in Gu­di­vada and Kak­i­nada in Andhra Pradesh. The six-month Saab DEEP pro­gramme is de­signed to help engi­neer­ing stu­dents learn and hone the right mix of tech­ni­cal and soft skills while they are still in col­lege. The curriculum in­volves class­room train­ing and a two-month on-the-job train­ing and in­tern­ship.

Carl-Gustaf M4 a man-por­ta­ble multi-role weapon sys­tem

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