Interview: Boeing’s $1-billion sourcing from 300+ Indian suppliers, includes 26% MSMEs

In an interview ahead of DefExpo-2022, Boeing Defense India’s managing director Rear Admiral Surendra Ahuja (Retired) tells our editor N. C. Bipindra that over one-fourth (26 percent) of Boeing’s sourcing from India comes from micro, small and medium enterprises. Boeing’s F/A-18 pitch for the Indian Navy includes a $3.5-billion economic impact over 10 years in India.

Q. Kindly provide an overview of the progress of Boeing’s defence supplies to the Indian armed forces going on at present, and what are the deliveries now scheduled to be done at Boeing’s end in those contracts?

A. Boeing has been a strong and trusted partner in the mission readiness and modernisation of India’s defence forces. Our proven portfolio of products and services offer unmatched operational capability across the entire mission spectrum.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III on offer to the Indian Navy (IN) is the most advanced, multi-role, frontline fighter of the US Navy (USN). This next-generation aircraft is ready to protect Indian armed forces from current and future threats. Boeing projects an economic impact of $3.6 billion over 10 years to India with the F/A-18 Super Hornet programme for the Indian Navy. This economic impact would be over and above Boeing’s current offset obligations and plans.

Rear Admiral Surendra Ahuja (Retired) Boeing Defense India’s managing director

We are also working to meet Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) requirement. The F-15EX will excel as a candidate in India’s MRFA program. Given the contemporary sensors and radar, advanced cockpit, range, endurance, speed and payload capacity, the F-15EX brings capabilities that no other fighter aircraft can offer. Additionally, as the IAF further shapes its defence capabilities, the KC-46 is the perfect choice for a multi-role tanker-transport aircraft for appropriate mid-air refueling capability. The new KC-46 is designed from the ground-up to be a combat-ready tanker. We also believe that India has requirements for more P-8Is, Apaches and Chinooks, and we stand ready to support them.

In 2020, the Ministry of Defence signed a contract for the acquisition of an additional six Apaches for the Indian Army. The AH-64 Apache helicopters will be a force multiplier for the Indian Army, just as it is today for the IAF. The Indian Army AH-64E Apaches are planned to deliver in country 48 months after contract award. Our Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL) joint venture in Hyderabad is a critical source of Apache manufacturing for the US Army and customers worldwide. The fuselages of the contracted six Apaches for the Indian Army will be built at the state-of-the-art TBAL manufacturing facility, right here in India.

Q. Please share the futuristic technologies that Boeing is currently working on in the Aerospace & Defence sectors, and how would those technologies fit into the India strategy of the company?

A. Our talented pool of employees at Boeing India Engineering and Technology Center (BIETC) in Bengaluru and Chennai is working on projects involving innovations in aerospace. Our engineers in India undertake high-quality, advanced aerospace work spanning engineering design of structures and systems, manufacturing support, developing systems to test our airplanes and providing digital solutions to our airline customers. Cutting-edge research and development work in traditional and emerging areas is also done at BIETC, including next-generation Airplane Health Management (AHM), environment-friendly coatings, advanced networks and secure-communications, where teams leverage new-age technologies to replace traditional approaches, enhancing safety and productivity across Boeing platforms.

The Boeing India engineering design teams collaborate with our Research and Development (R&D) teams globally to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) methods and in the process, result in a significant reduction in time taken for tasks, and also enhancing quality. Digital aviation efforts are also helping airlines reduce fuel consumption through route optimisation and make effective utilisation of their crew. Digital engineering is being used to enhance the manufacturing environment and provide value to customers. Digital threading is being used to create a digital twin before manufacturing aircraft systems, resulting in fewer manufacturing issues. This drives efficiency, optimises product design, and enhances manufacturability, making the end-to-end supply chain more digital.

To further this objective, Boeing has continuously invested in local capability through collaborations with Indian organisations across manufacturing, infrastructure, engineering services, research and technology, training and skills development. These investments have enabled Indian suppliers to engage in high-value, high-tech manufacturing of complex aerospace components and subsystems for India and for the world. We continue to explore new manufacturing opportunities with Indian supplier partners. One such area is FSDA (Full Size Determinant Assembly) on BDS platforms. Boeing intends to perform an on-site assessment at a few suppliers in India to develop a path forward.

Photo: Boeing’s AH-64 Apache gunship currently deployed with the Indian armed forces.

Q. What shall be Boeing’s strategy and outlook towards the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbar Bharat‘ (Self-Reliant India) push of the Indian government, with the company’s vast experience working with Indian armed forces for years now?

A. Boeing has always supported the development of indigenous aerospace and defence capabilities in India, and has through the years invested in partnerships with the Indian aerospace ecosystem in skilling, research and technology, and manufacturing. Our growing partnership with the country’s defence forces and our expanding supplier base makes it imperative for us invest in, develop, and nurture talent.

Our sourcing from India stands at $1 billion a year from 300+ suppliers who are part of the global supply chain. Boeing’s industrial partners in India are raising the bar to deliver world-class quality, cost-efficiency, and productivity, as they become an important part of the company’s supply chain for some of the most advanced platforms in the world. 

There are several examples where our Indian partners are global suppliers of critical parts on Boeing’s defence airplanes. We are developing MSMEs in support of our commitment to Aatmanirbhar Bharat. In fact, 26 percent of our suppliers from India are MSMEs. For example:

  • Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), Boeing’s joint venture with Tata, is an example of our strategic focus on ‘Make in India’. Our efforts in TBAL align not just with the mission of ‘Make in India ‘but with the Prime Minister’s call for “Make in India, for the World”. We say this because the Apache fuselages made in this facility in Hyderabad are meant for not just the six Apaches that the Indian Army is on contract with Boeing for, but also Apaches for customers around the world, including the US Army.
  • Dynamatic Technologies Limited manufactures the ramp and complex aft pylon for Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. They were recently awarded a contract for manufacturing assemblies for Boeing’s newest tactical fighter, F-15EX Eagle II. This is a first, where aerostructures for the latest and most advanced F-15EX Eagle II are being made in India.
  • Rossell Techsys, a division of Rossell India Limited, manufactures wire harness and electrical panel for the AH-64 Apache, and the harness for several defence platforms including CH-47 Chinook, F-15 and F/A-18 Super Hornet.
  • Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) manufactures IFF (Identify Friend/Foe) and speech secrecy system for the P-8.
  • SASMOS HET Technologies Limited manufactures electrical panel assemblies for the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Strike Eagle

Furthermore, in 2021, we launched the Boeing India Repair Development and Sustainment (BIRDS) Hub. BIRDS is an initiative to bring together ecosystem partners to shape India as a strategic destination for aerospace engineering, maintenance, repair and sustainment services. This is a one-of-its-kind initiative that seeks to provide customers with best-in-class solutions, efficient turnaround times, and optimal economic value, all available in-country. Partnership is Boeing’s key to success, and we believe it makes more sense to partner with local Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) institutions that are already established and have great capabilities.

We are continuously investing in local capacity-building as well as collaborations with Indian organisations across manufacturing, infrastructure, engineering services, research and technology, training, and skills development. These collaborative programmes are developing the skilled and trained workforce in India needed to build an ecosystem conducive to business success. Our Indian suppliers are our partners in the journey towards ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and in making India a key hub for aerospace and defence manufacturing for the world.

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