SP's Aviation - - NEWS WITH VIEWS - —By Air Mar­shal B.K. Pandey (Retd)

THE NUM­BER OF COM­BAT squadrons in the IAF cur­rently stands at 32 as against the ex­ist­ing au­tho­rised level of 39.5. The size of the com­bat fleet is ex­pected to re­duce fur­ther with the re­tire­ment of older fleets of MiG-21 and MiG-27 by the end of the decade. With the pro­gres­sive re­tire­ment over the next decade of the other fleets in­ducted in the 1980s, the size of the com­bat fleet will dwin­dle fur­ther. Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment has approved the en­hance­ment of the strength of the com­bat fleet to 42 squadrons and given the evolv­ing se­cu­rity sce­nario in the re­gion, it would not be sur­pris­ing if this fig­ure is soon en­hanced to 45. In De­cem­ber 2016, the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha had stated that the IAF would need to in­duct around 250 com­bat jets over the next 10 years if it has to re­tain its oper­a­tional edge against its ad­ver­saries.

Af­ter the can­cel­la­tion of the ten­der for 126 medium mul­ti­role com­bat air­craft ( MMRCA) and a scaled down or­der for 36 Rafale jets from Das­sault of France, the Ministry of De­fence sought pro­pos­als from global aero­space ma­jors for the man­u­fac­ture of com­bat jets in In­dia un­der the newly con­ceived ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme. The for­mer De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar had stated that apart from the light com­bat air­craft Te­jas, In­dia would choose at least one more sin­gle-en­gine fighter air­craft to be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia.

In re­sponse, in July 2016, Lock­heed Martin of­fered to move its pro­duc­tion line to a lo­ca­tion in In­dia as de­cided by the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, to man­u­fac­ture the F-16 Block 70. Equipped with ad­vanced avion­ics, the lat­est AESA radar and better data pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, the air­craft would have in­creased lethal­ity, sur­viv­abil­ity and in­ter­op­er­abil­ity. With these fea­tures, the F-16 would be the lat­est and near fifth-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion of this leg­endary com­bat plat­form with en­hanced oper­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Apart from meet­ing with the re­quire­ments of the IAF, the plat­form and spares would be avail­able to the 25 odd cus­tomers across the world cur­rently op­er­at­ing this ma­chine as also to new cus­tomers if any.

How­ever, with the change of political lead­er­ship in the US, pro­posal by Lock­heed Martin to man­u­fac­ture the air­craft in In­dia ap­pears to have got mired in some con­tro­versy on ac­count of which plans of the IAF to add punch to its com­bat fleet has been en­gulfed in un­cer­tainty. To be­gin with, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has se­ri­ous reser­va­tions about com­pa­nies in the US mov­ing their man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties over­seas and then sell­ing their prod­ucts from es­tab­lish­ments abroad back to the US. In the pro­posal by Lock­heed Martin, the plan is to man­u­fac­ture the F-16 in In­dia pri­mar­ily for the IAF and other cus­tomers, but not for the US as the USAF is phas­ing out this plat­form. The pro­posal by Lock­heed Martin there­fore to move the ex­ist­ing F-16 pro­duc­tion line to In­dia and man­u­fac­ture the air­craft for the global market ex­clud­ing the US, does not mil­i­tate against the pol­icy of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The other ma­jor thrust of pol­icy changes by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is to stop fur­ther loss of jobs for US cit­i­zens. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also plans to im­ple­ment mea­sures to bring jobs back to the United States. As per Lock­heed Martin, mov­ing the F-16 pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity to In­dia would cre­ate 200 en­gi­neer­ing jobs in the US to help sup­port the pro­duc­tion line in In­dia. It has also said that about 800 workers in the US en­gaged in the pro­duc­tion of the non-Lock­heed parts for the F-16, would con­tinue to re­tain their jobs if the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity shifts to In­dia.

Thus the pro­posal by Lock­heed Martin in re­spect of pro­duc­tion of F-16 fighter jets in In­dia would not lead to loss of jobs for US cit­i­zens. On the con­trary, it well help re­tain jobs or even im­prove upon prospects for em­ploy­ment for American cit­i­zens in a seg­ment of the in­dus­try which oth­er­wise would have to shut down.

But per­haps the most im­por­tant fac­tor that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to take into ac­count is that In­dia is ex­pected to spend around $250 bil­lion over the next decade on the mod­erni­sa­tion of its armed forces. Re­jec­tion by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of the pro­posal by Lock­heed Martin to man­u­fac­ture the F-16 com­bat plat­form in In­dia in large numbers, would not only hurt Lock­heed Martin, but would also be detri­men­tal to the in­ter­ests of the other American de­fence ma­jors such Boe­ing, Northrop and Raytheon who have sub­stan­tial busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in In­dia in the de­fence sec­tor. Be­sides, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion can­not ig­nore the fact that the United States has made In­dia a “ma­jor de­fence part­ner.”

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