F-16 Fighter Jets May Come to India Under `Make in India’ programme
Lockheed Martin is in jet speed to make the latest variant of its F 16 Block 70 in India.
During the Paris Air Show in June, the company announced a coproduction agreement with the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TATA), and now it has disclosed that in anticipation of a contract from the Indian Air Force (IAF) for a single engine aircraft manufacturing facility, it has already initiated steps to create the required ecosystem in the country. Diplomatic sources indicate that the US Government is also aggressively backing the Lockheed Martin proposal in Government-to-Government (G-2-G) talks with the Indian Government.
Mr Abhay Paranjpe, Executive Director, International Business Development and Mr Randall L Howard, Business Development head for F 16 said during a recent interaction with India Strategic here that the company had already worked out the best available systems that could be integrated in the aircraft, assuring: “We will provide whatever the IAF asks for, and our technology will be unmatched and unprecedented.”
Recently, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, had said that IAF now logically expects better specifications than were asked for in the 2007 tender for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). The F 16, which was the first to bring a powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on board in its Block 60 aircraft delivered to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) way back in 2004, does not yet have the Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system.
IRST, which is there on board the French Rafale already taken by IAF, is a passive system and can detect hostile aircraft and targets between 60 to 100 km or so without being detected itself, unlike any radar system including the AESA. As the world’s biggest military hardware company, “We will be able to offer whatever the IAF wants, on time and cost,” said Mr. Paranjpe, adding that the Lockheed Martin proposal will include assured periodic upgrades.
AESA is a key component for contemporary and future aircraft, and can look up to 400 km depending upon the radar’s power and aircraft’s height.
Mr. Paranjpe also said that the new AESA, to be acquired from Northrop Grumman which had made it first for F 16 Block 60 and later for F 22 and F 35, will be of a new 4th generation, and compared to the earlier versions which are liquid cooled, will be air cooled and still perform better. It will be multimode, able to lock onto 20 targets simultaneously, and a pilot can priorities which targets to engage first.
Mr. Howard said that the company will meet any specs required by the IAF. The aircraft is comfortable in power and weight and can accommodate whatever is needed. Lockheed Martin will leverage some future technologies from its F 35.
“As the F 16 Block 70 will be a new generation aircraft, it will also share some components and latest technologies with those of the F 35 to the extent of 70-75 percent. The Block 70 will also have conformal fuel tanks for longer range.”
The company will shift the entire factory and production line from Fort Worth in Texas to India if – repeat if – the Ministry of Defence (MoD) selects the aircraft.
Notably, the global standard for aircraft availability is about 70 percent. This, or whatever is required by IAF, will be matched, Randall Howard said.
Paranjpe pointed out that IAF’s urgency in aircraft requirement is no secret, and the Indian order for a minimum of 100 first to be followed by many more later will be huge. “We have a great partnership with TASL, and we should be able to produce three to four aircraft every month for Indian and global requirements. We will create a big defence industrial base, a supply chain for not only India but for the world, and that will include spares.”
Asked about how much investment the company will put in, Mr. Panajpe and Randall Howard said that they hoped that India will follow the US business model. There, a runway is shared by the US Air Force (USAF) and industry, the two being on either side of it, and that will determine how much Lockheed Martin will have to invest. Sharing facilities will help save costs and production and testing time.
Mr. Panajpe added: “We are also ready to pass on the required knowledge and know-how to local partners.”
Randall Howard said that Lockheed Martin had produced nearly 4,600 aircraft in 138 variants and sold to 27 countries, including the US. Sixteen of these countries placed repeat orders.
He also pointed out, significantly, that while the India’s Ministry of Defence is yet to place the order under its new policy of Make in India and having a Strategic Partner, Lockheed Martin is doing its homework in anticipation of winning it. We have worked out the technologies onboard, Display Systems, Software, Air to Air and Air to ground Targeting Systems, and what to do with whom as part of our effort to create an enabling ecosystem and move literally at jet speed.