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Swedish Defence Minister coming with fighter plane offer

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The Gripen multi-role fighter.

NEW DELHI (PTI): Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist is arriving in New Delhi on Tuesday on a four-day visit during which he is expected to offer the Gripen NG fighter aircraft or a possible joint collaboration in manufacturing the single engine light combat planes.

Hultqvist, who will arrive on Thursday night, will also visit the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) units in Bengaluru.

He is scheduled to hold talks with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on June 10.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had in April said his government was in talks with the Swedish defence company Saab Group to set up a production unit in his state.

During his trip to that country, Fadnavis had tweeted a photo of himself in the cockpit of a Gripen and said "it was great to be at the aerospace and defence company Saab at Linkoping, Sweden. Promised a defence manufacturing policy in Maharashtra soon."

Saab had offered JAS 39 Gripen E light fighter to India when the tender for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) was announced. The bid was finally won by French firm Dassault Aviation.

Gripen is a far better version of India's indigenous light combat aircraft Tejas which has been in the making for nearly 30 years.

Parrikar has said that Tejas would be the replacement for the aging fleet of MiG-21s in the IAF.

DRDO had a few years back sought Saab's help in developing the Mark II version of Tejas.

Saab is likely to insist on a government-to-government (G2G) deal if they step in to assist India in developing and manufacturing a light fighter.

India and Sweden had on June 1 signed several agreements to boost ties and decided to restart the bilateral strategic dialogue besides finding ways for investment by the Nordic country in India's defence sector under the ambitious 'Make-in-India' initiative.

With changed FDI rules and the 'Make-in-India' campaign, it is expected that Swedish government would look at India as a manufacturing base.

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