The defence relationship between India and the United States, the world’s largest and oldest democracies, over the years has become a “trusted one”, a former top Pentagon official and now a senior Boeing executive has said. Heidi Grant, president, business development, defence, space and security, global services, Boeing told PTI on Wednesday that Boeing’s investments in India’s aerospace infrastructure, defence capabilities, manufacturing, engineering and services, skill development and innovation will only continue to grow in the coming years.
“In 2010, when I was Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs at the Pentagon, the India-US defence relationship was just taking off and look at where we are now. When I am asked about what I am most proud of during my years at the Pentagon, I say I’m proud of my relationship with India,” she said.
“I believe the defence relationship between the US and India has become a trusted one, starting with the C-17 which became a symbol of that relationship. Look at how India is using their C-17s for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions – that has lifted up the Indian Air Force and India’s Ministry of Defence’s reputation globally and with the Indian public on how they’re using their defence assets – Chinooks, Apaches, P-8Is,” she said.
Grant joined Boeing in November 2021 from the US Department of Defense where she spent 32 years.
She served as director, Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), responsible for all DoD security cooperation programmes involving defence articles, military training and other defence-related services. There, she oversaw more than 15,000 military sales cases with more than 150 countries valued at more than USD 600 billion.
Grant recalled that during her time at the DSCA, the most amount of time she spent in any country was in India. “In my previous role at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, I recall spending more than 60 per cent of my time on India,” she said.
“We looked at co-production, how to use the significant engineering capability that India has, tapping into the defence capability and capacity that India and the United States have and getting industry involved. We spent time on the industrial supply chain and ‘Make in India’ and now it has all come back full circle with Boeing. Boeing is at the front of center of all of that,” she said.
Last Sunday, she met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh along with Ted Colbert, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security.
“The last time I met with Minister Singh was in 2020 when I was in India for the third 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue along with the then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper,” she said.
“We welcome the political and industry alignment and bipartisan support for a strong and growing relationship between the between the United States and India, world’s largest democracies. It’s exciting for us at Boeing to be part of this fundamental, transformational shift and we are committed to helping build India’s defense aerospace and defense sector and industrial base,” she said.
Responding to a question on India’s defense needs, Grant observed that operating different types of equipment from different countries is difficult.
“It’s expensive and logistically challenging managing the infrastructure, part and sustainment. There needs to be a balance and the US would be a better way to go to fill in those areas or to replace some of those capabilities,” she said.
“Capabilities such as navy fighters like the F/A-18 Super Hornet that can operate on carriers (U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers; other countries don’t match up), P-8I for ISR capability (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), F-15EX and aerial refueling (KC-46 tanker),” she said.
“I strongly believe in the tremendous potential of the F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighter requirement and the P-8I in furthering maritime cooperation between India and the United States and the strengthening the naval aviation ecosystem between the two navies,” Grant said.
The investments that Boeing has made in India’s aerospace infrastructure, defence capabilities, manufacturing, engineering and services, skill development and innovation will only continue to grow in the coming years, she said.
“We’re excited about the transformative potential of our partnership with India,” she asserted.
“Our partnership is an enduring one, and not a transactional one,” Grant said. Last year, Boeing launched a USD 10 million emergency assistance package to support India’s COVID-19 response and is working with central and state governments and international relief organisations to set up COVID-19 care hospitals, provide medical equipment and facilities support, and organise vaccination camps.
Boeing now has 3,500 employees in India and more than 7,000 people working with its supply chain partners.
“We are proud to support the many missions of the Indian armed forces that operate multiple Boeing aircraft, including C-17 strategic airlifters, P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters,” Grant said.
“We’ve made the latest investment outside of India in Boeing’s India Engineering and Technology Center at USD 200 million and have a wholly-owned engineering and technology campus with future avionics manufacturing and assembly capability that is coming up in Bengaluru,” she said.
In support of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India’, Boeing sources over USD1 billion from India and Boeing’s Indian supply chain partners are exporting products made in India for the global aerospace market. Over 275 Indian suppliers deliver components, parts and complex assemblies for Boeing’s commercial and defence aircraft, including the F/A-18, F-15, P-8, Apache, Chinook, C-17 and T-7, Grant said.
The top Boeing official said that she was in India last month and visited the JV facility with Tata Advanced Systems that is producing aero-structures for Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopter for the US Army and global customers and recently delivered its 140th AH-64 Apache fuselage from its 14,000 square meters state-of-the-art facility in Hyderabad.
The JV is also manufacturing 737 Vertical Fin structures, a complex structural part, on a new production line that will utilize cutting-edge robotics and automation.
“At Boeing’s India Engineering and Technology Center (BIETC), engineers work on cutting-edge R&D and undertake high-quality, advanced aerospace work and offer engineering expertise to Boeing’s defence, space, and commercial businesses spanning engineering design of structures and systems, manufacturing support, developing systems to test our aircraft, and providing digital solutions to our airline customers,” she said.