Antoine Caput, Vice-President and Country Director (India) of Thales, has said the $2.5 billion-project to upgrade 51 Mirage 2000 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force is going as per schedule and four upgraded jets have been already delivered.
In an interview with BusinessLine, he said the firm is keen to make India its global manufacturing hub and the joint venture with Bharat Electronics (BEL) is progressing well. Excerpts:
How has the progress of upgradation of the ageing Mirage 2000 aircraft been so far? Is it on track?
The project began in July 2011 and since then, Thales and Dassault Aviation have both been working on the upgradation of IAF’s Mirage 2000 fleet.
Four upgraded Mirage 2000 have been delivered to the IAF and the rest of the fleet is being upgraded by HAL with the support of Dassault Aviation and Thales teams as per the contract.
Will this upgrade enhance Air Force’s combat capabilities?
The Mirage 2000’s capabilities will be significantly enhanced and the IAF will have a capable and potent platform for the next 20 years. The upgraded Mirage 2000s will sport longer range radars and improved tactical situation awareness.
They will also have longer-range weapons to engage simultaneous targets with greater stealth. The improved fighters will have an extended operating envelope, with the capability to engage ground targets whilst countering airborne threats.
Recently, the top brass of the IAF expressed concerns over delay in the project. What was the issue?
It is on track, as per schedule. We are working with all partners and in case of any challenge, we will address them as per the contract.
Thales is a significant supplier to Dassault Aviation for Rafale combat jets. However, the $9-billion deal with the Indian government is stuck over pricing. Is that frustrating?
We are committed to India and our partners working with the Indian government. We understand each country’s situations and hence, the rules and laws are different.
Are you keen to make India an exporting hub, since Thales already has more than 30 medium-to-big sub-contracted suppliers for certain hardware components?
We are considering India as a key market for the group. We have developed a network of local partners to primarily address Indian needs. India is rich in engineering, human talent and certainly a source of competitiveness, for our group to grow. Hence, we aim at working for India and from India to extend our global performance and presence.
How much does your India business contribute to your annual revenues? Do you see it growing in the next foreseeable future?
We do not provide region-wise break-up of our revenues. However, what we can say is that we are very excited about India as it provides enormous opportunities across defence, aerospace, ground transportation and urbanisation.
We believe in ‘Make in India’ as it complements our own vision of ‘Go to India’. We will continue to respond to market requirements, build a strong ecosystem of partners and support the process of transforming India into a global manufacturing hub.
What is the current status of your JV with Bharat Electronics (BEL) on ground radars?
The JV with BEL was formed in August 2012 and formally incorporated as BEL-Thales Systems Limited in August 2014.
It is dedicated to the design, development, marketing, supply, and support of civilian and select military ground-based radars for India and global markets. While Thales holds 26 per cent equity, BEL holds the rest of the stake.