12:56 PM, September 22, 2017
F-15V fighter jet (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin's offer of moving its F-16 manufacturing facility to India may be in doubt following a large order from Bahrain for the F-16's latest version, the "V" together with issues over transferring critical technology to Indian companies.

When Lockheed Martin announced the F-16V a couple of years ago, it came at a time when the Indian government was pushing for the replacement of its MiG-21 fleet with a latest generation single-engine aircraft to be made in India for use by the Indian Air Force (IAF) besides for export. The US-based company was enthusiastic about the project it had no customer for the F-16V then.

However, the coming of the Trump administration with its mantra of keeping American jobs home changed this perspective. A Lockheed Martin executive had announced at the last IDEX show in Abu Dhabi that the next F-16s would be built in the USA.

Last week, the Government of Bahrain requested a possible sale of 19 F-16V aircraft along with upgrading its existing 20 F-16s to the V configuration together worth US$3.8 billion. The key systems and equipment that go into the F-16V include Vulcan 20mm Gun Systems, F-110-GE-129 Engines, APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radars, 22 Modular Mission Computers, Embedded Global Navigation Systems, Improved Programmable Display Generators and 38 LAU-129 Launchers.

The state department notice makes it clear that work on the Bahrain contract would be executed at Lockheed Martin's facility in the US. A company executive had told earlier that there are several sales prospects for the F-16V, both new and upgrades to existing versions such as the Block C and D.

There are hundreds of legacy F-16s operating with air forces in Europe, Asia and the Middle East which could potentially be updated to the F-16V version.

Interest in the F-16V is rising as a low-cost alternative to the F-35 whose development problems appear to be seeing no end. Lockheed Martin executives have been hard-selling the F-16 at defence and air shows much more than the F-35 in recent months. The company is optimistic about more F-16V international deals in the coming years.

Then there is the issue of technology transfer. The US department of defense has been denying parting with critical technologies to foreign countries. These include integrated systems for active electronically scanned array radar, electro-optical targeting pod, infrared search and track and radio frequency jammer with India under the manufacturing the aircraft for local consumption and exports.

In August last year article, was among the first to point out that the setting up of F-16 production line would not be possible on the same grounds. It was undoubtedly clear that the US would not part with the critical technologies as it has denied the same technologies to South Korea, which is building its own fighter aircraft modelled along the F-16 with inputs from Lockheed Martin. Seoul is considered a closer ally to Washington than New Delhi.

The Indian government has sent a request for information (RFI) to manufacturers of single-engine fighter aircraft manufacturers for a possible make-in-India program. Only two global companies fit this bill- Lockheed Martin with its F-16 and Saab with its Gripen.

Both have tied with Indian companies to execute the project should they receive the contract to manufacture some 100 plus aircraft for the IAF.

India has sought guarantee from US for technology transfer in case any US based company bids for fighter jet program under the ‘Make in India’ initiative in July this year.

It was certain by March this year that the production line would not be set up in India. Lockheed Martin started shifting production of its F-16 fighter jets to Greenville from its existing Fort Worth, Texas facility effectively burying its plans to move the production line to India.

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