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Airbus offers to set up global production hub in India for Panther helos

CHENNAI (PTI): Eyeing India's lucrative military modernisation programme, aerospace giant Airbus has offered to set up a global manufacturing hub for its Panther helicopter in the country if the company gets a multi-billion-dollar contract to supply a fleet of 111 naval multi-utility choppers to the Navy.

Pierre de Bausset, president and managing director of the Airbus Group in India, said the company was ready to transfer critical technology to India for the helicopter programme and discussions were underway on it with the Defence Ministry and other stakeholders.

"In the case of Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), we will be manufacturing (it) in India not only for the Indian market but for the world as well. For customers worldwide who are interested in that model (AS565 Panther), they would get it from India," de Bausset told PTI in an interview.

He said Airbus has offered its H225M helicopter in response to the Indian Navy's initial tender for 123 Naval Multi Role Helicopters (NMRH).

The Indian Navy in August last had issued a global request for information (RFI) or an initial tender for the procurement of 111 naval utility helicopters and 123 multi-role choppers under the strategic partnership model.

On India's Make in India initiative in the defence sector, de Bausset, who was in Chennai to attend the Defence Expo, said India must focus on areas where it has strong expertise so as to ensure proper utilisation of the country's limited resources.

"You are in a country which has limited resources and budgets. You have to do a lot... Self-reliance does not mean that you have got to do everything," he said.

He said almost all leading global defence majors concentrate on investing in areas where they are confident of doing their best.

"There are a number of fields where you have achieved excellence...You have the best engineers... This is where you should put your money and be complementary to other people to do other things much better," he said.

He further said, "I am saying just optimise your budgetary money and your investment so as to shine and where you can really shine best, put your efforts there."

Talking about the government's mega plan to make India a global hub of military manufacturing, de Bausset said, "It is not going to happen with things that you do not do better than the others. It is only going to happen when you do it better than the others. Put the money where you ought to put it."

The Defence Ministry last month had come out with a draft policy which envisages achieving a turnover of Rs 1,70,000 crore in military goods and services by 2025 by promoting the domestic defence industry. The policy is likely to be finalised in the next two months.

The focus of the four-day-long Defence Expo, which ended on April 14, was to project India as a major country in military manufacturing.

On Airbus's offer to manufacture the Panther helicopter in India, he said the European major would work with India's Mahindra and Mahindra Group for its chopper programme if the company won any of the two mega contracts.

"We are very comfortable with the Mahindras. We think alike on a number of things. They have a very good industrial track record, certainly not in building helicopters but in building things that we believe are relevant," de Bausset said.

The procurement of both categories of choppers totalling 234 would cost the Government in excess of US$ 15 billion, according to industry experts.

He said talks were going on with the Defence Ministry and various stakeholders on what kind of technology they are interested in.

The Panther helicopter is currently in service in 42 countries and has logged up to 5.8 million flight hours.

The NMRH are being procured particularly to enhance the Navy's anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities.

The Navy has been pressing the Government to procure new utility and multi-role helicopters to add teeth to its existing capability and replace its ageing fleet of choppers but the procurement process has seen years of delay.

In May, the defence ministry had finalised the Strategic Partnership model under which select private firms will collaborate to build military platforms such as submarines, fighter jets and choppers in India in partnership with foreign entities.

The policy envisages the establishment of long-term strategic partnerships with Indian defence majors through a transparent and competitive process wherein they would tie up with global OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to seek technology transfers for setting up domestic manufacturing infrastructure and supply chains.

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