Washington: Global aerospace giant Lockheed Martin on Tuesday said its proposal to manufacture custom-built F-16 fighter jets in India will make the country an export hub and give it access to an estimated $165 billion fighter aircraft market over the next few decades.
Eyeing India’s lucrative defence manufacturing sector, Lockheed said F-16 production would place India at the centre of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem, creating “unmatched" Make in India opportunities and export potential.
Vivek Lall, vice-president, strategy and business development, Lockheed Martin said F-16 Block 70 being proposed to India will be the most technologically advanced and capable F-16 fighter jet ever produced. “F-16 exports could begin within five years of establishing production in India. Depending on when India makes its selection, more than 200 F-16s could be exported from India," Lall told PTI.
The F-16 Block 70, he said, brings the most modern avionics, a proven Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a modernised cockpit, advanced weapons, longer range with conformal fuel tanks, the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) and an advanced engine with an extended service life. Block 70 mission systems are completely new and leverage technologies from the F-35.
Northrop Grumman’s advanced APG-83 AESA radar on the F-16 Block 70 provides F-16s with 5th Generation fighter radar capabilities by leveraging hardware and software commonality with F-22 and F-35 AESA radars, he said in response to a question. “F-16 production in India would indeed be exclusive something that has never before been presented by any other fighter aircraft manufacturer, past or present," he said.
Noting that there are approximately 3,000 operational F-16s flying today with 25 leading air forces, including the US Air Force, he said the demand for new production of F-16s remains strong. “Many air forces are actively engaging with Lockheed Martin about the prospect of procuring new F-16s. We see F-16 production opportunities totaling more than 400 aircraft, including aircraft for the Indian Air Force," Lall said.
Lall said the worldwide demand for F-16 sustainment—personnel, maintenance, fuel, consumables, spares, repairs, and operations—totals an estimated $165 billion over the next 30 years. Several hundred F-16s will remain operational through 2050 and beyond as structural and avionics modifications continually increase the capability and lethality of the F-16, he argued.
Noting that with the ‘Make in India’ initiative maximising the transfer of production hardware, it’s reasonable to assume India will produce F-16 hardware spares, Lall said Lockheed Martin has already met with approximately 100 suppliers in India about potential F-16 opportunities. It is continuing to engage with those companies and many other potential Indian industry partners, he added. “In addition to reaching out to Indian suppliers we have not worked with before, we’ve also been closely engaged with our current F-16 suppliers, many of whom have extensive experience in India," he said.
Lockheed’s F-16 industry partners include GE, Terma, Honeywell, Fokker, Israeli Aerospace Industries, Elbit, UTC, Terma, Eaton, Moog, and Parker. “These are global industry leaders with international portfolios and industrial partnerships," he said. Hundreds of Lockheed Martin products and technologies have been successfully transferred and co-produced in India through enduring international partnerships, he said.
Lockheed Martin has helped develop fighter industry ecosystems around the world—for the F-16 and F-35, he said adding that there is incredible possibilities for Indian private industry in this regard. “The Lockheed Martin-Tata F-16 partnership is without equal. Only Lockheed Martin’s global experience and success establishing defence ecosystems in six countries, combined with the strength and integrity of Tata, can deliver the advanced defence capabilities and industrial benefits to truly propel India’s military and defence industrial base into the future," he said.
Of the view that India’s initiatives to expand defence manufacturing to private sector creates exciting opportunities for private industry, he said the F-16 provides unmatched opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes, including Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and suppliers throughout India.
“We are looking to establish enduring relationships with Indian industry—win-win partnerships that will strengthen India’s and America’s economy and India-US strategic ties for the next half century and beyond," he said.
On 18 April, Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL), a joint venture between Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Lockheed Martin, inaugurated India’s first-of-its-kind metal-to-metal bonding facility at Adibatla in Hyderabad.
The new 4,700 square-metre metal-to-metal bonding facility adds a new cutting-edge capability to the Indian aerospace industry and enables TASL to use this technology across manufacturing programmes for complex aerostructures manufacturing and increased indigenisation, which directly supports the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, Lall said.
The new facility and capacity expansion creates new job opportunities for skilled workers in India’s manufacturing sector and provide on-the-job training, which supports the Government of India’s “Skills India" initiative, he said.