Lock­heed Martin F-16 for the IAF

De­ci­sion by Lock­heed Martin to trans­fer the F-16 pro­duc­tion line to In­dia would be con­tin­gent on whether the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia se­lects this air­craft for the In­dian Air Force


The pro­posal is in a nascent stage and should it fruc­tify, the MoD ought to seek clar­ity on is­sues re­lated to trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy and shar­ing of costs

On the evening of Novem­ber 7 this year, Ab­hay Paranjape, Na­tional Ex­ec­u­tive for Lock­heed Martin Aero­nau­tics, Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment in In­dia, Ran­dall L. Howard, Di­rec­tor of Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment, Lock­heed Martin Aero­nau­tics Com­pany In­te­grated Fighter Group, and Mark D. John­son, F-35 Me­dia Re­la­tions, Lock­heed Martin Aero­nau­tics Com­pany, car­ried out a brief­ing for few se­lected mem­bers of the Ben­galuru-based me­dia. The three se­nior ex­ec­u­tives were ac­com­pa­nied by a team from the Lock­heed Martin plant at Fort Worth, Texas. Their visit to Ben­galuru was meant pri­mar­ily for in­ter­ac­tion with the aero­space in­dus­try lo­cated here, both in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor. This ini­tia­tive by Lock­heed Martin was ap­par­ently a con­se­quence of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the com­pany from the In­dian Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) seek­ing a pro­posal to man­u­fac­ture a fighter air­craft in In­dia un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.

In their re­sponse to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the MoD, the Amer­i­can aero­space and de­fence ma­jor Lock­heed Martin has of­fered to trans­fer lock, stock, and bar­rel, their only func­tion­ing pro­duc­tion line of the F-16 from its present lo­ca­tion in Fort Worth in the US to one in In­dia as de­cided upon by the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia. Lock­heed Martin be­lieves that on ac­count of the ad­van­tage of cost of pro­duc­tion be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly lower in In­dia, there should log­i­cally be in­crease in global de­mand. For In­dia, this move will gen­er­ate a large num­ber of skilled jobs, an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion in­deed!

How­ever, the de­ci­sion by Lock­heed Martin to trans­fer the F-16 pro­duc­tion line to In­dia would be con­tin­gent on whether the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia se­lects this air­craft for the com­bat fleet of the In­dian

Air Force (IAF). The plat­form will be then man­u­fac­tured ex­clu­sively in In­dia to meet the re­quire­ment of the IAF as also of other op­er­a­tors of the air­craft across the world. As per Lock­heed Martin, in­di­ca­tions are that the pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity of the fighter air­craft would be lo­cated some­where in cen­tral In­dia in the prox­im­ity of a fighter base. When queried about the pos­si­ble con­tenders in the race for this project, ex­ec­u­tives of Lock­heed Martin were of the view that as the MoD ap­peared to be in­clined to go for a sin­gle-en­gine com­bat air­craft, it is un­likely that the Boe­ing F/A-18 would be com­pet­ing for this project. In their opin­ion, the only other orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer (OEM) in­volved in the pro­duc­tion of fighter air­craft in the race would then be Saab of Swe­den with their of­fer of the new E ver­sion of the sin­gle-en­gine JAS-39 Gripen.

How­ever, as per a state­ment by the Min­is­ter of De­fence Manohar Par­rikar, the MoD is likely to se­lect a sec­ond com­bat plat­form for pro­duc­tion in In­dia. In the ab­sence of a clear state­ment from the MoD re­gard­ing pref­er­ence for a sin­gle-en­gine fighter, it would not be log­i­cal to ex­clude twin-en­gine com­bat air­craft from the race. Hence the F/A-18, the Das­sault Rafale and the Rus­sian Su-35, all twin-en­gine plat­forms could well en­ter the race at least in the sec­ond project if not in the first.

As per Lock­heed Martin, the ini­tial re­quire­ment in­di­cated by the MoD would be for 100 air­craft of which 14 would be sup­plied by the com­pany in fly-away con­di­tion. This fig­ure ap­pears to be rather low given the fact that the com­bat fleet of the IAF is cur­rently de­fi­cient by 180 air­craft and by the time the pro­duc­tion line is re­lo­cated in In­dia and de­liv­ery of the air­craft com­mences, the de­fi­ciency in the com­bat fleet is likely to go up to around 300 plat­forms. Also to re­store the op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity of the IAF quickly enough, it would be ad­vis­able to en­hance the per­cent­age of air­craft ac­quired in fly­away con­di­tion to en­able the IAF make the fleet op­er­a­tional as soon as pos­si­ble and ar­rest the rapidly erod­ing com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity.

Brief His­tory of the Fight­ing Fal­con

The ori­gins of the F-16, called the Fight­ing Fal­con, can be traced back to 1976. It was then de­vel­oped for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics, now Lock­heed Martin, as an air su­pe­ri­or­ity fighter to op­er­ate only by day. How­ever, it was soon trans­formed into an all-weather, multi-role com­bat air­craft and has had a highly suc­cess­ful track record since then. In the last four decades, the com­pany has re­ceived or­ders for a to­tal of 4,588 air­craft from 27 coun­tries of which 4,573 have been de­liv­ered so far. With 138 ver­sions pro­duced, the plat­form has un­der­gone more than 1,000 up­grades. Al­though no longer be­ing pro­cured by the USAF, up­graded ver­sions are still be­ing built for ex­port cus­tomers. Cur­rently the F-16 is be­ing op­er­ated by 25 coun­tries across the globe in­clud­ing our not so friendly neigh­bour Pak­istan. As of 2015, it is the sec­ond most com­mon fighter air­craft cur­rently op­er­a­tional in the world.

The F-16 Block 70

The state-of-the-art F-16 Block 70 is a fourth-plus-gen­er­a­tion air­craft be­ing de­vel­oped by Lock­heed Martin ex­clu­sively for the IAF. This plat­form is an evo­lu­tion of the proven de­sign and is equipped with next-gen­er­a­tion tech­nol­ogy that will pro­vide the re­quired com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties in a scal­able and af­ford­able pack­age. The unique tech­no­log­i­cal fea­tures of this plat­form in­clude avion­ics equip­ment of the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. These are as un­der:

• Ad­vanced data trans­fer equip­ment.

• Ac­tive elec­tron­i­cally scanned ar­ray radar.

• Com­mon data En­try elec­tron­ics unit.

• Dig­i­tal flight Con­trol com­puter.

• Em­bed­ded GPS/INS.

• Im­proved pro­gram­mable dis­play gen­er­a­tor.

• Joint hel­met mounted cue­ing sys­tem.

• Night vi­sion imag­ing sys­tem.

Of the avion­ics equip­ment listed above, what mer­its spe­cial men­tion is the APG 83 Scal­able Ag­ile Beam Radar (SABR) which is an AESA radar that ac­tu­ally gives the plat­form fifth-gen­er­a­tion ca­pa­bil­ity. The beam agility of the APG 83 en­ables in­ter­leaved air-to-air and air-to-sur­face op­er­a­tions that can be tai­lored to meet spe­cific mis­sion re­quire­ments. It pro­vides long-range search and track ca­pa­bil­ity against at least 20 air­borne tar­gets si­mul­ta­ne­ously in a cone of 120 de­grees and pro­vides a far greater sys­tem re­li­a­bil­ity. The APG 83 can also de­tect and track fixed and mov­ing tar­gets on the ground or over the sea. The high res­o­lu­tion syn­thetic aper­ture mode en­ables au­tonomous and all-en­vi­ron­ment pre­ci­sion tar­get­ing. The sys­tem can con­tinue to func­tion ef­fec­tively even in the most chal­leng­ing elec­tronic war­fare en­vi­ron­ment.

Strate­gic Per­spec­tive

Trans­fer of pro­duc­tion line of the F-16 air­craft to In­dia and clo­sure of the fa­cil­ity in the US would have im­pli­ca­tions for Pak­istan which still op­er­ates a large fleet of this air­craft. The Pak­istan Air Force (PAF) will not be able to pro­cure any more of these plat­forms. This would also dis­rupt the sup­ply of spares to the PAF. This would com­pel Pak­istan to move closer to China for col­lab­o­ra­tion in the regime of the mil­i­tary. How­ever, the deal with Lock­heed Martin if it does go through will pro­vide fur­ther boost to US-In­dia de­fence ties which may be in con­form­ity with the pri­or­i­ties of the new dis­pen­sa­tion in the United States.

The Fi­nal Word

As the pro­duc­tion line for the F-16 in Fort Worth is planned to be shut down by the end of this decade, it is un­der­stand­able that the OEM is look­ing for op­tions to con­tinue prod­uct sup­port for the air forces of 25 na­tions that con­tinue to op­er­ate this plat­form as also to meet the de­mand for ad­di­tional air­craft from the ex­ist­ing cus­tomers and pos­si­bly new cus­tomers. The pro­posal to re­lo­cate pro­duc­tion line to In­dia is as yet in a nascent stage and should it fruc­tify, the MoD would have to seek clar­ity on two ma­jor is­sues namely trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy and shar­ing of costs. Lock­heed Martin ap­pears ex­tremely keen to see the project through. How­ever, the poli­cies of the new gov­ern­ment in the US in re­spect of col­lab­o­ra­tion in the regime of aero­space and de­fence in­dus­try will be crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the theme of Lock­heed Martin of “For In­dia, From In­dia, Ex­ported to the World”.

F-16 in flight at sun­set


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