French defence major Thales plans to expand its presence in India to exploit the huge opportunities expected to flow from the Indian military's ambitious plan to go for theatre commands comprising the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
Pascale Sourisse, senior executive vice president, International Development, Thales, said creation of theatre commands will fuel the need for radars, electronic warfare systems and weapons and the firm is ready to meet the huge demands, including through joint production of military hardware.
The first batch of RBE2 air defence radar systems will roll out from the joint venture between Thales and Reliance Defence Limited next month, Sourisse told PTI in an interview.
The Nagpur-based manufacturing facility of the joint venture is going to produce SPECTRA electronic warfare systems, which are going to be part of Rafale fighter jets. Initially, the RBE2 radars will be integrated in the facility.
The JV was set up to develop Indian capabilities to integrate and maintain radars and manufacture high performance airborne electronics, leveraging Thales' offset commitment as part of a deal to supply 36 Rafale fighter jets to the Indian Air Force.
India plans to reorganise the existing military commands into common theatre commands comprising the Army, Navy and Air Force on the lines of similar structures in leading western powers.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat last month announced that work on establishing theatre commands will be completed within three years and that the new model will significantly enhance India's combat capabilities.
"The Indian market is a very important market for Thales. We are investing in this market considering future growth opportunities," Sourisse said.
Thales, a vendor of Dassault Aviation, has already almost tripled its head count in India to 1,150. Sourisse also said Thales will be able to boost technology transfer to India if the Rafale aircraft is chosen by the Indian Air Force in its hunt to procure 114 fighter jets at a cost of $18 billion.
The top contenders for the deal include Lockheed's F-21, Boeing's F/A-18, Dassault Aviation's Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG 35 and Saab's Gripen.
In 2016, India inked a Euro 7.87 billion (approx Rs 59,000 crore) deal with France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. The first four aircraft will arrive in India in May.
"Thales is part of the Rafale team. We hope that Dassault Aviation will get the future orders. Our resolve to share critical technologies with India is fully supported by the French government. There is a clear commitment to transfer critical technology to India," Sourisse said. She said Thales has offered to produce F90 assault rifles in India.
Thales has also announced joining hands with MKU, an Indian company, to co-develop night vision devices for the armed forces in India and across the world.
Sourisse said Thales has also offered Indian armed forces a new generation radio solution which could enhance interoperability among the Air Force, the Navy and the Army in a collaborative combat scenario.
Thales, which has been in India since 1953, provides solutions, services and products to customers in the aeronautics, space, transport, digital identity and security, and defence markets in 68 countries.
In the last couple of years, Thales has been investing in digital innovations with a focus on big data, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
Last year, Thales launched its Global Engineering Competence Centre in Bengaluru with an aim to accelerate innovation and digital transformation to serve the needs of the Indian market and the group's global markets.