In an interview ahead of DefExpo-2022, General Atomics Global Corporation chief executive Dr Vivek Lall tells our editor N. C. Bipindra that the American firm is continuing its discussions with the Indian government on procurement programmes, both in the Aeronautical Systems and the Energy and Electromagnetic Systems divisions for potential business opportunities.
Q. Kindly provide an overview of the progress of General Atomics’ lease to the Indian armed forces going on at present, and what are the deliveries now scheduled to be done at the GA’s end in those contracts?
A. General Atomics is currently providing MQ-9A remotely piloted aircraft to India as part of a Company-Owned, Company-Operated (COCO) lease agreement. I can tell you that the MQ-9As we have supplied have performed very well over the past three years. Over the past six months, close to 3,000 hours have been flown in support of the Indian Navy‘s maritime and land border patrol objectives, covering over 14 million square miles of operating area. Our Indian customer has been impressed by the MQ-9’s over-the-horizon ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) support for surface units and Indian warships, as well as the exceptional endurance and operational availability of the platform.
Q. Where has General Atomics set its eyes on in India for its business growth in the days to come? What are the possible programmes of the Indian armed forces for which General Atomics has offers from its portfolio of products?
A. General Atomics’ experience, which includes 30 years of producing unmanned aircraft systems and more than 1,000 aircraft delivered, is one of the most important reasons customers choose General Atomics. Even with all those aircraft delivered, we boast an exceptional 90 percent mission-capable rate – one of the highest of any platform – which means our aircraft are ready to perform their mission when called upon. And in addition to UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) from our Aeronautical Systems business, General Atomics is deeply engaged in discussions with India on a variety of programmes, including with our Energy and Electromagnetic Systems business areas.
Q. Please share the futuristic technologies that General Atomics is currently working on in the defence sector?
A. As an innovation driver, General Atomics continues to be at the forefront of new developments. Recently, we announced the development of Gambit, a series of unmanned Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) that will be the most technically advanced, simplest to employ, and most cost-effective family of UAS available.
Gambit is a suite of aircraft, with multiple variants that can be finely tuned for the most particular and demanding missions. Gambit starts with a core platform that encapsulates a single set of common hardware: Landing gear, baseline avionics, chassis and other essential functions.
This common Gambit core accounts for roughly 70 percent of the price among the various models, providing an economy of scale to help lower costs, increase interoperability, and enhance and accelerate variant development. From that core, we are creating four specialised Gambits with a range of capabilities from a dedicated sensing platform to potential strike.
The Gambit CCA will take-off, fly, and operate with high levels of autonomy. This will enable seamless integration with human pilots, or other Gambits, in the air and on the ground.
Q. What shall be General Atomics’ strategy and outlook towards the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbar Bharat’ (Self-Reliant India) push of the Indian government?
A. ‘Make in India‘ is an important focus of General Atomics as we continue to build our relationship with India. We’ve recently announced joint strategic partnerships with Indian companies, such as RAMCO, 3rdiTech and 114ai, and we look forward to additional announcements in the months ahead.
Q. What are the defence manufacturing and drone policies that either enable or hinder General Atomics’ business prospects in India?
A. The Government of India has opened multiple opportunities to Foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers to manufacture in India. Defence manufacturing corridors, avenues for Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and single window clearances make India a very attractive destination. General Atomics is fully invested in India for long-term relationships and eagerly looks forward to actively collaborating on projects under consideration by the Indian government.