With the Defence Ministry's keenly-awaited request for proposals (RPFs) for 126 fighter jets yet to be published, US aeronautic giant Lockheed Martin is banking on “burgeoning Indo-US ties and the F-16's technological superiority” to streak ahead of its rivals in clinching what's being dubbed one of the world's biggest arms deal worth around $7 billion.
Joseph W Stout, director of communications, Lockheed Martin, said the F-16s could form an important element of Indo-US strategic partnership in the long term and provide strong relationship with the US Air Force in areas of training and tactics development. "As the RFPs are not yet out, we are anticipating Indian requirements to tailor F-16 aircraft configurations that best suit the IAF," he said.
Referring to the aircraft's Block 60 version, Stout said the aeronautics company was constantly incorporating new technologies to make improvements in cockpit, avionics, sensors and weapons for scaling up combat efficiency. An important feature of this version is the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that combines increased pilot situational awareness with improved reliability.
As for competition from Boeing's F-18 Super Hornets, he said the twin-engine aircraft was essentially a navy aircraft suited for operating from aircraft carriers. "We have competed with F-18s many times and haven't lost to them in 10 years. Twin-engine planes add to costs towards spare parts and maintenance," Stout claimed.
He said the F-16 had the record of being the safest single-engine multi-role fighter in the USAF history. "Though F-16 has a single engine, its safety statistics are the same as F-18s."
The F-16s, however, face competition from a clutch of other makers to whom the IAF had sent requests for information two years ago. They are Boeing IDS for F-18s, Dassault Aviation for Rafale, Russian MiG Corporation for MiG-29 and Sweden's SAAB for Gripen.
As per the government's offset norms, public and private sectors get 30 per cent of related business in some form, ranging from co-production, R&D to components supplies.
There are reports that apart from HAL, Tatas and L&T, the offsets business is also being eyed by TCS and Wipro. Stout said, "We are looking at possibilities like technology transfer, co-production and tie-ups in the IT sector." Lockheed is also in the running for a deal to supply eight P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft to the Indian Navy.