Interview | Country Head, MBDA, Loïc Piedevache

When you consider L&T MBDA Missile Systems Ltd only made its debut at the previous edition of DefExpo, you can see the strength of our commitment to ‘Make in India’ and the level of investment made by MBDA and L&T to mature our JV.

Most global companies are incorporating autonomy and Artificial Intelligence in their future programmes. In terms of R&D, what have been the new developments at MBDA?

MBDA is a pioneer in the field of autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and can be considered a global leader in these technologies. Several of MBDA’s existing systems incorporate elements of autonomy or AI as an aid to human decision making or to enhance system performance. MBDA’s excellence in this field was recognised in 2019 with the prestigious ‘Ingénieur Général Chanson national engineering prize’ for work with AI.


What are your on-going programmes with the Indian armed forces?

We have numerous on-going programmes across all branches of the Indian armed forces. One highlight is that MBDA is the main weapons provider for the Rafale aircraft, where our role is to provide the platform with game-changing combat performance. Unquestionably the most famous is the Meteor, the ramjet powered and network-enabled beyond visual range air-to-air missile that is widely recognised as a game changer for air combat. No less game-changing for the Indian Air Force (IAF) is the SCALP stealthy air-launched cruise missile that also forms part of the Rafale weapons package. This potent weapon will give the IAF an unrivalled and flexible tool to conduct deep strike missions at long ranges against even the most protected of hostile targets. MICA meanwhile provides both the Rafale and the newly upgraded IAF Mirage 2000 aircraft with a uniquely flexible approach to air combat.


What future programmes are you looking at in the short term and the medium term, across army, air force and navy?

We are currently targeting several new procurement programmes for the Indian armed forces, and aim to do so through L&T MBDA Missile Systems Ltd, our joint venture with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) for the delivery of ‘Make in India’ projects. There are currently three main projects we are pursuing through the joint venture (JV). These are our offer of ATGM5, the world’s only true 5th Generation Anti-Tank Missile, as an Indian Designed Developed and Manufactured (IDDM) product under the ‘Make in India’ programme. ATGM5 offers many unique capabilities, including being truly network enabled, a multi-purpose warhead with selectable effects, and high-performance seeker technologies. The JV is also offering Exocet MM40 Block 3 for the Indian Navy’s Medium Range Anti-Ship Missile (MRAShM) requirement, the latest version of the venerable Exocet missile already in service with the Indian armed forces, which has improved electronics and an extended range. In addition the JV’s is competing for the Indian Navy’s Short-Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) requirement where in its Request for Proposal (RFP) response it has just offered Sea Ceptor, a high-performance and modern air defence system that offers excellent protection against all air threats and provides easy platform integration and many space, weight and safety benefits compared with older systems. In addition, where we already have one system in service on one Indian platform, we look to expand our presence onto multiple Indian platforms so that the Indian armed forces can take advantage of the operational, support and training benefits of utilising common weapon stockpiles across multiple platforms.


When you created the JV with L&T, it appeared that several programmes were about to begin. However, that has not happened. Do you think it is disheartening for the JV? Or do you have reasons to be optimistic?

L&T MBDA Missile Systems Ltd is moving forward at rapid pace, and has just submitted its first bid (RFP) to the Indian armed forces. The JV’s offer of Sea Ceptor, the latest generation of naval air defence system, is its RFP response for the Indian Navy’s Short-Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) requirement, and is offered with the aim to ‘Make in India’. Two further programmes-ATGM5 and MRAShM-are currently at the Request for Information (RFI) stage. When you consider L&T MBDA Missile Systems Ltd only made its debut at the previous edition of DefExpo, you can see the strength of our commitment to ‘Make in India’ and the level of investment made by MBDA and L&T to mature our JV. We expect to make further exciting announcements on the rapid development of L&T MBDA Missile Systems Ltd later this year.


Are you still working with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)?

Certainly, we have regular engagement with the DRDO.

MBDA has a long history of working with the Indian armed forces. What advantage does this give you vis-a-vis your competitors?

MBDA has been actively working in partnership with India’s government and public/private industry to build India’s defence industrial capabilities for over 50 years–during which time MBDA and India have co-operated to build many tens of thousands of missiles in India. MBDA is recognised world-wide as an absolute leader in the field of missile technologies. We are also recognised as being the only truly integrated multi-national company in the defence sector–co-operation is in our DNA in a way that is unique in the defence sector, and particularly in the field of missiles. This makes us uniquely able to partner with India, to work with the DRDO, the Indian ministry of defence (MoD), and to support the development of India’s public and private defence-industrial capabilities. We have the technological knowhow needed to transform India’s industry, we have the experience of making partnerships work for the long-term, but most importantly, we also have the right attitude–we view our relationship as one of true partners, not of buyer and seller.


With reference to ‘Make in India’, what is your level of engagement with the Indian industry? What kind of eco-system have you created and to what extent is it part of your global supply chain?

MBDA is fully committed to ‘Make in India’, which is in full accordance with MBDA’s long-term partnering strategy with India that goes back over 50 years. We have extensive links with Indian industry in both the private and public sector. Today for example, there is extensive manufacturing by Indian industry of 15 major subassemblies of the MICA missile. MICA arms both the IAF’s Mirage 2000 and the soon-to-arrive-Rafale fighters, but these sub-assemblies are manufactured for our global supply chain not just for India. These sub-assemblies impressively cover a wide range of complex technologies such as hi-specification mechanical, electrical, electromechanical and pyrotechnic items. Similar transfers to build India’s defence-industrial capabilities has also occurred on the Mistral and ASRAAM missiles, including transfer of technology (ToT) for setting up industrial capabilities for missile final assembly and integration testing.


Given your worldwide experience, what do you view as the limitations of the Indian defence procurement procedure? What needs to be done to create a sustainable defence industrial base in the country?

For many decades now MBDA has been working with India’s defence industrial base, and we can see great successes in this history that has created sustainable capabilities within India.


The Indian ministry of defence says that changing the location of DefExpo for each edition is to encourage wide-spreading of the defence-industrial ecosystem. From the global original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) perspective, how useful or cumbersome is this approach?

We are looking forward to DefExpo 2020 in Lucknow.


Call us