‘Committed To The Make In India Policy’
The group CEO believes in growing business through the Make in India initiatives across defence and civil aerospace sectors as well as the smart city mission
French multinational Thales Group, which designs and builds electrical systems, and provides services for the aerospace, defence, transportation and security markets, has been present in India since the 1950s. It has joint ventures with Hindustan Aeronautics, Bharat Electronics, Samtel and others as well as an MoU with IIT-Bombay. PATRICE CAINE, chairman and CEO, Thales, during a recent visit to the country, talked to BW Businessworld about the Mirage 2000 fleet upgrade, the Pharos fire control radar systems, as well as other defence and civil projects that it is engaged with. Edited excerpts:
Thales has been in India for the past six decades now. How do you view your India business – past, present and future?
We have been present in India since 1953. In fact, Thales has been contributing in the development of India in the fields of defence, aerospace and ground transportation (Railways and metros). Today, we have over 300 employees working with our wholly-owned Indian subsidiary, Thales India. Thales has been supporting the requirements of all three branches of the Indian Armed Forces — Indian Navy, Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army. Together with Dassault Aviation, Thales has been working on the upgradation of the IAF’s Mirage 2000 fleet, and the first four Mirage 2000 I/TI fighters have already been delivered. Our association with HAL goes back more than five decades. Further, we have created joint ventures with Samtel, BEL and L&T Technology Services. From the original focus on defence in India, we have extended our footprints to other key domains such as ground transportation (becoming a leading provider of ticketing systems for metros) and aerospace in late 90s. We are a globally recognised leader in providing smart city solutions for mobility and security, and with India’s ambitious plans for developing smart cities, the company is well positioned to assist Indian authorities in building cities for the future. Going forward, Thales will continue to strengthen its India presence.
What is the update on the Mirage 2000 upgrade?
Since 2011, Thales and Dassault Aviation have been working on the upgrade of Mirage 2000 fleet. Four upgraded Mirage 2000 aircraft have been delivered to the IAF. The rest of the fleet is being upgraded under the responsibility of HAL with the support of Dassault Aviation and Thales teams as per the contract. The upgrade will enhance the technical-operational capabilities of the Mirage 2000 fleet. As a result, the IAF will have a coherent platform system combination for the next 20 years. The IAF’s air potential will be further enhanced by the integration of new capabilities. Let me point out that the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme also serves the strategic requirements of the ‘Make in India’ initiative for the Indian government.
How have your joint ventures performed? How can you contribute to the ‘Make in India’ campaign?
Thales’ strategy is in line with the Indian government’s policy of ‘Make in India’ to develop the industrial defence base of the country.
Our association with HAL, BEL, Samtel and L&T Technology Services are a testament to it and so is our ‘Go to India’ approach through which we have been promoting India as a sourcing destination and co-operating with the Indian private sector to innovate together, to build transfer of technology and supply chain partnerships to support our growth plans for the market.
Thales and HAL have been long-term partners in providing airborne avionics, mission systems and equipment for aircraft and upgrade programmes. One of the key programmes, the Mirage 2000 upgrade, that we are undertaking together with Dassault Aviation is a fine example of our association with HAL. Then the BEL-Thales Systems (BTSL) joint venture, which was incorporated in August 2014, is dedicated to the design, development, marketing, supply and support of civilian and select military ground-based radars for both Indian and international markets. During Defexpo 2016, Thales and BTSL signed a partnership agreement for the joint development of the PHAROS fire control radar. Thales holds 26 per cent equity in BTSL with Bharat Electronics taking the balance.
We forged a joint venture with Samtel in 2008 to locally develop and produce helmet-mounted sights and displays, military avionics and airborne sensor systems for the defence market. Samtel Avionics holds 74 per cent equity in the joint venture, while Thales owns the balance. The joint venture is fully operational and the production of displays for the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme paves the way for future opportunities to serve local and export markets. We also have a jv with L&T Technology Services, which was inked in June 2014. This joint venture has been formed with a view to develop software engineering activities in India, particularly in the avionics domain.
Can you throw some light on the BEL-Thales joint venture?
Thales and BTSL signed a partnership agreement for the joint development of the PHAROS fire control radar during Defexpo exhibition this year. This strategic co-operation contract will allow Thales and BTSL to jointly develop PHAROS, a fire control radar for both gun and missile systems. The PHAROS system will cater to both domestic and international market requirements. This strategic step goes beyond the co-development partnership. It reaffirms our commitment to India and the ‘Make in India’ policy. PHAROS will provide defence against small, fast moving and highly manoeuvrable air and surface targets that may also be encountered in littoral missions. Its joint development will also strengthen the co-operation between Thales and BTSL in the field of innovative technologies.
What is the role of R&D and innovation in India?
Innovation is an integral part of Thales which invests 20 per cent of its annual revenues on R&D. Innovation enables Thales to better focus its efforts on high value-added products making them more attractive and differentiating it from the competitors. It also helps in increasing the company’s overall performance. A third of Thales employees are engineers.
Our future lies in continued investments in India and by partnering with universities, commercial and technology partners, and hiring and training local resources, amongst others. India is rich in engineering, human talents and certainly a source of competitiveness for our group to grow here. Thales and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to create a jointly supervised IIT Bombay-CNRS Ph.D fellowship scheme starting July 2016. Previously, Thales had signed an MoU with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in October last year. Through these collaborations with Indian academic institutions, Thales looks forward to contributing to the Indian government’s mission of skilling and up-skilling people, and its focus on enhancing the R&D fields in India.
How is Thales performing in the civil aerospace sector?
Thales is the only company in the world with leadership positions in both on-board equipment (cockpit and cabin solutions) and ground equipment (radars, air traffic management systems, etc.). It has made significant strides towards success in the civil aerospace sector in India which includes retrofit of avionics and in-flight entertainment to Air India, critical avionics to IndiGo and Jet Airways, and navigational aids to the Airport Authority of India. Thales also provides a wide range of support and services for avionics in the civil aerospace market. In 2015, IndiGo extended its long-term avionics maintenance agreement with Thales for its growing fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft, including the A320neo. Thales has been a partner to IndiGo since the airline took delivery of its first Airbus A320-200 aircraft in 2006.
What are your plans for the transportation sector?
Thales is a long-standing partner of public transport in India with systems in operation both in metros and on main lines. In metros, Thales provides different urban systems (ticketing, passenger information, signalling systems) for New Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bangalore. In main line rail, Thales provides electronic axle counters to the Indian Railways. Also, it is currently deploying Train Protection and Warning System for the Southern Railway on the Basin Bridge-Arakkonam section. With this, Thales brings to India the most advanced signalling system that it has already successfully deployed in Europe. Since last year, Thales has been focusing on transfer of production of its TPWS signalling technology to India, through its local supply chain partners. Thales is actively supporting the ongoing modernisation plan of the Indian Railways.
What opportunities do you see in India’s Smart Cities project?
India is the biggest market in the world in terms of planning smart cities. In India, there is an increasing need to make cities safer. With safe and smart cities being one of the priority areas for the current government, we see a huge opportunity to be a partner of choice.
Given our experience and expertise in defence and transportation, we are well-equipped to meet the concerns of city authorities, with a particular focus on security, cyber security and mobility. Our smart city solutions enable customers to provide an expanded range of mobility and transportation services as well as manage crises and coordinate emergency services and response. We are therefore well positioned to bring our global expertise to India, capitalising on key references such as Mexico City’s urban security and Auckland’s regional ticketing system that allows multi-modal travel with a single pass. In January this year, we signed a MoU with Engineering Projects (India) to jointly work on projects for smart cities in India.