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Swedish underdog fights for IAF contract

world Updated: Jan 24, 2010 23:53 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times
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Swedish Air Force Major Bengt Eriksson, a Gripen fighter pilot, crashed his 4X4 into a moose when he was cruising to this former Cold War base on a freezing January morning. He was not driving at Mach speeds though the roads are tailored to serve wartime fighter bases.

The animal, an endearing Swedish symbol, has a reputation for throwing up surprises.

Swedish aerospace firm Saab, one of the six global bidders competing for India’s $10 billion (Rs 45,000 crore) contract for 126 fighter planes, too is hoping to pack a few surprises to surge ahead in the race.

Saab, which manufactures the Gripen, lacks the political clout to match its American, Russian and European rivals. The Swedish firm also knows India would factor in politico-strategic ramifications before signing the deal.

Saab President Ake Svensson told HT, “There’s always a politico-strategic element to such contracts. But Gripen is the independent choice.”

In-house trials on the Gripen demo aircraft, a testbed for the next generation Gripen IN (India) fighter, are over. Eddy de la Motte, Gripen’s campaign director for India, claimed the fighter came with enhancements such as a more powerful engine, improved payload and range, advances in radar technology and supercruise capability.

The IAF carried out trials on the demo aircraft at the Vidsel missile test range in Sweden last December. It will undergo trials in Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh in March to test performance in diverse climates.

The jury is still out on whether it can rustle up a surprise in the Indian sweepstakes. The Gripen pilot, who carried out some stunning maneouvres here, did surprise visiting Indian journalists. He got out of the cockpit and bicycled back to the barracks, smashing the stereotype of the fighter pilots’ swagger.

(The writer was in Sweden on the invitation of Saab.)