|By Gulshan Luthra||Published November 2017|
New Delhi. It was in 1993 perhaps when I met Mr Dhirubhai Ambani in Dubai at a party hosted by his friend, Mr Cawas Motiwala, a distinguished and polite businessman. Mr Ambani had come there to float shares of his new venture in petrochemicals among foreigners and NRIs. He handed me a form, from Director’s quota, saying take as many as you wish. (It was Rs 10/share, but…. Let’s leave it).
His demeanor impressed me. In a brief chat, he said Life is about Hope and Determination. It’s a quotable quote I cherish.
At the Dubai Airshow’15, I had a chance to meet his younger son, Mr Anil Ambani, and recalled what his father had said. “That’s the only way, and that’s how we function,” was his answer. He was clear then that Rafale would be a winner with at least 200 aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF). He also told me that he was looking far ahead, into space.
The Government has ordered 36 only so far, but I understand IAF is ready to put in a note for another 36 as soon as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) indicates a firm decision and availability of funds. Notably, the Indian Navy is also looking for 57 twin-engine shipboard fighters, and it has to pick up either the Rafale or Boeing’s new Advanced Super Hornet F/A-18E/F. The Navy has decided to go in for the General Atomics Electromagnetic Landing System (EMALS) for which the Super Hornets are already configured.
Nonetheless, Dassault says that it is no issue as Rafale already operates from the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
Reliance has gone ahead to form partnership with Dassault, which is obliged to meet a 50 per cent offset commitment of the Rafale deal signed in September 2016 between the two governments. It is putting in more than Euro 100 million, which happens to be the single biggest offset investment in India at a single place.
Called the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL), the venture formally inaugurated its first aerospace industrial complex at Mihan in Nagpur in western India. Preliminary work has been going on at the site for some time to prepare for the big event, which will also make DRAL a member of the company’s global supply chain.
Together Mr Eric Trappier, Chairman of Dassualt Aviation and Mr Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Group, laid the foundation of the facility in the presence of French Minister for Armed Forces Florence Parly and Indian Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, who is also a member of Parliament from Nagpur.
Those present included Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler and about 200 local dignitaries and smaller vendors who would supply sub-components to DRAL.
Initially, DRAL will manufacture parts for the Legacy Falcon 2000 Series of Civil Jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation, and later, when it is viable with acquisition of more Rafales by IAF, then its structural and other components. Reliance is 51 per cent, and Dassault 49 per cent in partnership. Falcon is a preferred executive aircraft, and a few fly in India also.
Ms Parly had flown to India for the event, as also to meet her counterpart here Ms Nirmala Sitharaman to pursue sale of more Rafales, submarines, guns, munitions and to explore new avenues in space cooperation as India is now unlikely anymore to use the French Ariane rockets to launch heavy Indian satellites.
France has close strategic relations with India, and has promised to meet the Indian requirements on best possible terms.
DRAL is located in the Dhirubhai Ambani Aerospace Park in Mihan SEZ adjoining Nagpur International Airport.
One key agreement, and apparently a requirement for the venture’s is the training the venture will impart thousands of skilled workers for assembly and integration of components. The plan is to encourage the creation of some 200 MSMEs in the region.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Trappier said: “This Foundation Stone laying demonstrates Dassault’s firm commitment to implementing Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” programme. It gives the 65 year-long strong association of Dassault-Aviation in India a new momentum and the will of future manufacturing developments.”
France was the first country in the 1960s to sell Caravelle jets to the erstwhile Indian Airlines, which used to operate from the Safdarjang Aerodrome those days. France was also then the first to offer assistance in space to India, and some engineers from ISRO were trained by it in French institutions. (But they had understandably to learn French first).
Welcoming the joint venture, Mr Ambani stated: “The Reliance Dassault partnership will bring high levels of Technology Transfer. It will make India a major supplier into the global aviation supply chain. It will be the endeavour of both Dassault and Reliance to fully support Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” and “Skill India” policies and to accelerate India’s pursuit of self sufficiency in the aerospace sector.”
Neither side spoke of space, or beyond Rafale. But going by the cooperation India has had with France, and the encouragement the government is now giving to the private industry, Mr Ambani’s dreams are not beyond reality.
He attends all the defence shows everywhere in the world, is reported to have built some bridges of cooperation in the Gulf, particularly in the UAE, and looks like he will follow his father’s words with Hope and Determination.