Fight­ing Fal­con Made in In­dia

The IAF should be rea­son­ably com­fort­able with the Lock­heed Martin F-16IN Su­per Viper in its mod­ern avatar. A fa­cil­ity to man­u­fac­ture the air­craft in In­dia will be an added ad­van­tage for the IAF as it will pro­vide as­sured and ef­fec­tive prod­uct and main­tena

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT -

The F-16 has a long and im­pres­sive track record of oper­a­tions around the world and is re­garded as one of the most suc­cess­ful com­bat plat­forms in the history of mil­i­tary avi­a­tion

Dur­ing his visit to the United States in the last week of Septem­ber this year, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi suc­ceeded in fuelling as­pi­ra­tions of the busi­ness com­mu­nity in both the na­tions about fresh op­por­tu­ni­ties aris­ing in their re­spec­tive do­mains. In ad­di­tion, the two Heads of State were also able to el­e­vate the strate­gic part­ner­ship be­tween In­dia and the US to a new level. It was in the back­drop of these de­vel­op­ments that the Bethesda-based US aerospace and de­fence ma­jor Lock­heed Martin Cor­po­ra­tion brought up the is­sue of man­u­fac­tur­ing its iconic F-16 Fight­ing Fal­con in In­dia. Dur­ing a meet­ing in New York on Septem­ber 24, 2015, Mar­il­lyn Hew­son, the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Lock­heed Martin, dis­cussed the pro­posal with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.

Evo­lu­tion of the Fight­ing Fal­con

In the early 1970s, as a long-term plan to re­place the F-15 Ea­gle, the US Air Force (USAF) ini­ti­ated the light­weight fighter air­craft de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme. Amongst the sev­eral con­tenders in the race, the two de­signs short­listed for the fly-off were the sin­gle-en­gine YF-16 from Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics and the twin-en­gine YF-17 by Northrop. Many of the prospec­tive cus­tomers would have pre­ferred a twinengine de­sign on ac­count of the higher level of safety a com­bat air­craft equipped with two en­gines would pro­vide as com­pared to a sin­gle-en­gine plat­form. How­ever, it was the sin­gle-en­gine YF-16 that was se­lected by the USAF against the YF-17 which was the only twin-en­gine air­craft in the com­pe­ti­tion. The YF-17 de­sign re­jected by the USAF was taken over

by the US Navy and the task was as­signed to McDon­nell Dou­glas to de­velop a twin-en­gine car­rier-borne com­bat air­craft. The YF-17 thus evolved into the highly suc­cess­ful F/A-18 Hor­net and later into the land-based F/A Su­per Hor­net.

The YF-16, re­des­ig­nated as the F-16 Fight­ing Fal­con, is a sin­gleengine multi-role com­bat air­craft that was in­ducted into the USAF in the mid-1970s. Orig­i­nally de­signed as an air su­pe­ri­or­ity fighter, over the years, the F-16 has evolved into a po­tent multi-role com­bat plat­form with all-weather ca­pa­bil­ity. In 1993, the air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness of Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics was ac­quired by Lock­heed Cor­po­ra­tion, a com­pany that af­ter merger in 1995 with Martin Ma­ri­etta, came to be known as Lock­heed Martin Cor­po­ra­tion as it ex­ists to­day.

The F-16 was one of the first plat­forms to em­ploy the fly-by-wire con­trol sys­tem. Over the last nearly four decades, the Fight­ing Fal­con has gone through a process of evo­lu­tion through ma­jor up­grade pro­grammes. The latest vari­ants of the Fight­ing Fal­con is equipped with the AN/APG-80 Ac­tive Elec­tron­i­cally Scanned Ar­ray (AESA) radar, bet­ter avionics and sen­sors all lead­ing to im­proved sit­u­a­tional aware­ness for pilots and sub­stan­tially en­hanced pay­loads to meet with the de­mand of the rapidly evolv­ing op­er­a­tional en­vi­ron­ment. The air­craft has ul­tra high-res­o­lu­tion map­ping with au­to­matic ter­rain fol­low­ing and is ca­pa­ble of air-to-air track­ing of mul­ti­ple tar­gets. Many of the tech­nolo­gies de­vel­oped for the F-35 fifth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft would be in­cor­po­rated in the new ver­sions of the F-16.

So far, Lock­heed Martin has de­liv­ered more than 4,500 F-16 Fight­ing Fal­cons to 28 in­ter­na­tional cus­tomers which in­cludes the Pak­istan Air Force which has the older Block 15 ver­sion, a plat­form that has been phased out by the other air forces. Pak­istan also re­ceived some of the latest Block 50/52 ver­sion from the US in 2012. The F-16 Fight­ing Fal­con has a long and im­pres­sive track record of oper­a­tions around the world and is re­garded as one of the most suc­cess­ful com­bat plat­forms in the history of mil­i­tary avi­a­tion. More re­cently, dur­ing tri­als, it is re­ported to have proved to be su­pe­rior in close com­bat to the Lock­heeed Martin’s F-35 Light­en­ing II Joint Strike Fighter.

Fight­ing Fal­con on the In­dian Scene

The F-16 was one of the con­tenders for the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar ten­der for 126 medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA) for the In­dian Air Force (IAF). For this com­pe­ti­tion, the orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer (OEM), Lock­heed Martin Cor­po­ra­tion, had of­fered the F-16IN Su­per Viper. Based on the F-16E/F Block 60, the F-16IN Su­per Viper had a num­ber of mod­ern fea­tures which apart from the AN/APG-80 AESA radar, in­cluded con­for­mal fuel tanks, GE-F110-132A en­gine with full au­thor­ity dig­i­tal elec­tronic con­trol (FADEC) sys­tems, elec­tronic war­fare suite and in­frared search and track­ing (IRST), up­dated glass cock­pit and a hel­met-mounted sight. As per the OEM, “The F-16IN Su­per Viper in its class was the ul­ti­mate fourth-gen­er­a­tion plat­form and the most ad­vanced fighter ever built. This air­craft would en­able the IAF to seam­lessly transit to fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­ers.” In case the F-16IN Su­per Viper had won the MMRCA con­tract, Lock­heed Martin Cor­po­ra­tion would have in­cor­po­rated in the plat­form many of the tech­nolo­gies de­vel­oped for the F-35 fifth­gen­er­a­tion fighter or­dered by the USAF. In the event of the F-16IN Su­per Viper win­ning the con­tract, as per the terms and con­di­tions, the OEM would have had to man­u­fac­ture 108 air­craft in In­dia, the re­main­ing 18 hav­ing been supplied di­rectly in a fly­away con­di­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, this was not to be so as the F-16 was edged out of the race for the MMRCA con­tract.

The IAF re­ceived another shock when the MMRCA ten­der for 126 Rafale jets failed to make progress and af­ter nearly eight years since the is­sue of the re­quest for pro­posal (RFP), the ten­der had to be can­celled on ac­count of some in­sur­mount­able prob­lems en­coun­tered dur­ing con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions. De­scribed as ‘Mother of All Deals’, the MMRCA ten­der for 126 Rafale jets has been re­placed by a mini-deal di­rectly be­tween the Gov­ern­ments of In­dia and France for the pur­chase of just 36 Rafale jets in fly­away con­di­tion as against 126. That leaves the IAF with the prob­lem to find a way to in­duct the bal­ance of 90 com­bat jets out of the orig­i­nally tar­geted 126 air­craft in the MMRCA ten­der. The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia would in all like­li­hood in­sist that these 90 jets be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia, an im­per­a­tive in the con­text of the ‘Make in In­dia’ phi­los­o­phy of the Modi-led NDA Gov­ern­ment. Given the way the con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with Das­sault Avi­a­tion of France, the OEM for the Rafale, pro­gressed, it is highly un­likely that the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia will ac­cept any pro­posal to man­u­fac­ture the Rafale in In­dia; ex­or­bi­tant costs be­ing one of the de­ter­rents. That leaves the door wide open for other play­ers such as Eurofighter Typhoon from EADS that was re­named in 2014 as Air­bus De­fence and Space, the Gripen from Saab of Swe­den and the F-16IN Su­per Viper.

But the re­quire­ment of the IAF will go well be­yond 90 com­bat jets as with the re­tire­ment from ser­vice of the MiG-21 and MiG-27 fleets and the au­tho­rised strength of com­bat squadrons go­ing up to 42 in the next decade, the IAF will need at least another 200 fighter air­craft. Part of this re­quire­ment could be off­set against the fifth­gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft (FGFA) be­ing de­vel­oped jointly by the In­dian aerospace ma­jor the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL) and Sukhoi of Rus­sia. It is re­ported that the IAF plans to or­der only 65 of the FGFA in which case, to be­gin with, the IAF will be able to ab­sorb a min­i­mum of 225 com­bat jets man­u­fac­tured in In­dia. Fur­ther, with the re­tire­ment of the MiG-29, Jaguar and Mi­rage 2000 fleets in or around 2030 and lit­tle cer­tainty about the avail­abil­ity of the light com­bat air­craft (LCA) Mk II in ad­e­quate num­bers and in the re­quired time frame, de­pen­dence on for­eign sources to meet with the de­mands of the IAF for new-gen­er­a­tion com­bat jets will only in­crease sub­stan­tially. The mar­ket for in­dige­nously pro­duced new-gen­er­a­tion com­bat jets will un­doubt­edly be sig­nif­i­cant jus­ti­fy­ing the huge in­vest­ments by any global aerospace ma­jor.

Amer­i­can Mil­i­tary Air­craft in In­dia

With the break-up of the Soviet Union 25 years ago and the emer­gence of a unipo­lar world, the IAF has had ac­cess to mod­ern mil­i­tary air­craft from the US. In the last decade, the IAF has in­ducted the Boe­ing Busi­ness jets for VVIP travel as also some of the most mod­ern trans­port air­craft such as the Lock­heed Martin C-130J Su­per Her­cules for spe­cial oper­a­tions and the Boe­ing C-17 Globe­mas­ter III strate­gic air­lift air­craft that has given the IAF a global reach. The In­dian Navy has in­ducted the Boe­ing P-8I long-range mar­itime pa­trol air­craft. As per re­ports in the media, the IAF should be able to in­duct in the near fu­ture the Apache AH-64E at­tack he­li­copters and the Chi­nook heavy-lift he­li­copters, both from Boe­ing. The IAF should be rea­son­ably com­fort­able with the Lock­heed Martin F-16IN Su­per Viper in its mod­ern avatar. A fa­cil­ity to man­u­fac­ture the air­craft in In­dia will be an added ad­van­tage for the IAF as it will pro­vide as­sured and ef­fec­tive prod­uct and main­te­nance sup­port, some­thing that the IAF would cer­tainly need.

Over the last nearly four decades, the Fight­ing Fal­con has gone through a process of evo­lu­tion through ma­jor up­grade pro­grammes

AIR MAR­SHAL B.K. PANDEY (RETD)

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