Lockheed Martin says offer to build F-16s in India stands firm
At a time when the government seems disinterested to pursue plans to locally produce single-engine fighters in collaboration with a global defence contractor, US military contractor Lockheed Martin on Wednesday said its offer to build F-16 jets in India “stands firm”.
“We haven’t heard anything officially from the government and continue to pursue opportunities to build F-16s under the Make in India framework,” said Vivek Lall, Lockheed vice-president (strategy and business development). India is preparing to launch a fresh hunt for fighter aircraft to sharpen the combat edge of the Indian Air Force that is grappling with a shortage of warplanes, Hindustan Times had reported last week. However, there has been no official announcement.
Lall refused to comment on whether the F-35 stealth fighter was being offered to India, saying it was “a government-to-government conversation.” He, however, said “technology improvements” would continue to flow between the single-engine F-16 and F-35 at the fraction of the cost to F-16 operators. He also said that almost half of the F-16 supply chain was common with the F-35.
Lockheed and Swedish firm Saab are the only two companies exploring opportunities to build F-16s and Gripens in India under the single-engine programme.
Making a renewed pitch for the F-16, Lall said the “exclusive production” of the planes in India represented a significant opportunity to further defence diplomacy as 25 global air forces operated over 3,000 F-16 jets. He said the production of F-16s could begin in India within three years of a deal.
“F-16 production opportunities currently total around 400 (Indian requirement included) in central Europe, South America, Mediterranean and Asia,” he said. What if the government announces it will float a new global tender or take the government-to-government route to buy new jets? “We will still be in that competition. We are here for the long term,” Lall added.
The earlier plan was to pursue two separate projects under the Make in India initiative to build single-engine and twin-engine planes in the country. However, both these plans had not
The count of the IAF’s fighter squadrons has reduced to 32 compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war.
India had floated a global tender for 126 planes more than a decade ago but it stood cancelled after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared in April 2015 that India would buy 36 Rafale jets from France under a government-to-government deal.