Vivek Lall, Vice President and India Head of Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems, is no stranger to India, having served as managing director of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in New Delhi earlier. In an e-mail interview with Ramananda Sengupta, Lall elaborates on Boeing's six-decade relationship with India, and explains why the F-18 Super Hornet might just be the right choice for India.
Boeing has been in India for over six decades now, but mostly in the commercial aviation sector. It was only early this year that India ordered 8 P81 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft. Apart from political reasons, were there any other roadblocks to Boeing selling military aircraft to India earlier?
US defense companies were not permitted to sell to India for quite some time. Those rules were relaxed in 2004 and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) entered the Indian defense market the following year. The big challenge then was to convince many in India that Boeing did indeed have a defense arm, and that in its portfolio was the most advanced multi-role combat fighter in production, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Whatever skepticism that may have existed then about Boeing as a defense company has evaporated. IDS is taken very seriously and is recognized within the Indian military for the many products that align neatly with India's current and foreseeable defense needs: F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the CH-47 Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopter, the AH-64D Apache Attack Helicopter, and the C-17 Globemaster III Strategic Lift aircraft.
India proposes to buy some 126 multi-role fighter aircraft for its Air Force. However, the deal envisages that some of these aircraft would eventually be built in India. Does Boeing have a similar joint production relationship with any other country?
In some countries, companies that are part of the Boeing global supply chain do manufacture parts for Boeing defense products. Currently, HAL in India is manufacturing Gun Bay Doors and Wire Harnesses for the F/A-18. In December 2007, Boeing's CEO Jim Albaugh signed an MOU with HAL to send $1 billion in additional aerospace work to India. However, to date, no other country enjoys the joint production relationship envisioned for India if the F/A-18IN is selected in the MMRCA competition. India will assemble 108 of them in country by Indian workers. It is unprecedented.
Bar a few Mirages and Jaguars, the Indian Air Force at the moment has mostly Soviet/Russian aircraft in its inventory. How difficult would it be for pilots used to these aircraft to switch over to the new aircraft from Boeing, in terms of pilot skills and training?
Indian pilots today are very skilled at flying Russian and French aircraft. There's no reason to believe, given the training Boeing will offer, that they will have any difficulty adapting to the user-friendly technology of the Super Hornet.
Vivek Lall at his office. All photographs courtesy Boeing. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.