Lockheed Martin is firm on moving its F-16 fighter jet production line to India despite growing international orders for the F-16V, the latest version of its venerable military aircraft.
At the Dubai Air show last week, the UAE announced an order to upgrade 80 F-16 jets in a US$1.6 billion deal. In September, the US State Department approved the sale of 19 new F-16V models to Bahrain besides upgrading its existing fleet of 20 F-16C/D Block 40s to the F-16V standard. In addition, the Hellenic Air Force has received US approval to upgrade some 120 F-16 planes to the ‘V’ standard valued at $2.4 billion.
Lockheed could be sitting on over 500 orders for new F-16Vs and upgrades of existing F-16 C/D jets to the ‘V’ version. Following a $3.8 B contract with Bahrain signed in October, future potential contracts include the UAE, Greece and one with the USAF to upgrade some 75 F-16 C/D aircraft in US inventory.
Speaking exclusively to Defenseworld.net during the Dubai Air show, Randall Howard, who heads Lockheed Martin’s F-16 business development said, “If India signs up to buy 200 single engine fighter jets as projected, we will certainly set up a plant in India in partnership with the Tata Group which then will become the global production hub for the F-16. This plant will not only cater to the Indian order but also to international orders for new aircraft and parts for existing F-16s.”
This assertion opens up a huge business opportunity for the Lockheed Martin-Tata alliance which is pitching for the Indian Air Force’s 200 single-engine fighter jet requirement. “In addition to potential contracts approved by the US State Department, we are talking to 5 countries in Central Europe and 5 more in the rest of the world to upgrade their existing F-16s,” Howard added.
The aircraft proposed for India will most likely be based on the F-16V version though the configuration would depend upon the Indian Ministry of Defence’s Request for information (RFI) which we are looking forward to, he said.
Regarding transferring critical technologies related to radar, weapons systems and communications he said most of these technologies are with vendors who supply the components to Lockheed Martin and once talks progress, the US and Indian governments would have to address the issue. Key new technologies in the F-16V include the active electronically scanned APG-83 radar, which is also known as Scaleable Agile Beam Radar (SABR). The F-16V also features the Link-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System Joint Tactical Radio Systems (MIDS-JTRS).
On its part, Lockheed Martin is moving ahead with identifying vendors who would supply to the proposed joint venture. Some 70 vendors have been identified, so far, Randall added.
Howard said the Indian plant would feed the global F-16 eco-system over time as the facility matures from making fuselage parts to manufacturing whole sub-systems and critical components. “Lockheed Martin has tremendous experience in hand-holding international partners through the manufacturing curve and will do the same with its Indian partners.”
Lockheed Martin was looking to manufacture 3-4 aircraft per month in the Indian plant to meet the Indian order alone. “We would first begin with the final assembly and then progress to marking making fuselage parts and more complex sub-system assemblies later on,” he added.