Despite the overdrive by US-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (LM), nothing new has happened for the F-16 Block 70/72 for the Indian Air Force (IAF)
Despite the overdrive by US-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (LM), nothing new has happened for the F-16 Block 70/72 for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The company has offered to move its lone production line of the latest version of fighter aircraft F-16 Block 70/72 to India from Texas to meet Indian and global requirement —with a condition: The IAF has to choose the world’s largest-sold fighter aircraft for its fleet. Due to the retirement of vintage aircraft, the number of squadrons will be going down further by 2021. By then, 11 squadrons of MiG-21 and Mig-27, which are 35 to 45 years old, will be retiring from service. Vivek Lall, vice-president, strategy and business development, is now going to lead the efforts of Lockheed Martin, which has tied up with TATA in India, to push the F-16 Block 70/72. Lall spoke with Huma Siddiqui on the sidelines of the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi.
What new are you going to offer during your meetings here?
The F-16 Block 70 provides the path to business relationships with LM, the only company in the world that has designed, developed and produced operational fifth-generation fighter aircraft. We plan to introduce two new words into the lexicon of international fighter aircraft manufacturing: “India” and “Exclusive.” India-specific state-of-the-art fighter production in India will be exclusive — something that has never before been presented by any other fighter aircraft manufacturer, past or present. There is a significant export market available for Indian made fighters.
The F-16 Block 70 has been termed as old technology that LM is pushing hard for the IAF — what do you plan to do to take the discussions forward, especially as the IAF, to mitigate the shortfall of fighters, is acquiring the indigenous ‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)?
The F-16 Block 70 being offered specifically to India is uniquely the best state-of-the-art fighter. No other advanced fourth-generation platform even comes close to matching the record of real-world combat experience and proven operational effectiveness. The India-specific state-of-the-art fighter on offer and its programme’s size, scope and success enables Indian industry to take advantage of unprecedented manufacturing, upgrade and sustainment opportunities well into the future. As you are aware, the IAF is keen on the F-35 and is also not keen on single-engine aircraft… Many of the systems used on the India-specific platform are derived from key lessons learned and technologies from Lockheed Martin’s F-22 and the F-35, the world’s only operational fifth-generation fighters. It is important to note that all three variants of the F-35 are single-engine aircraft.
Approximately half of the Indian fighter supply chain will be common with the fifth-generation F-22 and F-35. Technology improvements will also continue to flow between the F-16, F-22 and F-35 for decades, at a fraction of the cost to F-16 operators. Northrop Grumman’s advanced APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on the F-16 Block 70 provides F-16s with fifth-generation fighter radar capabilities by leveraging hardware and software commonality with F-22 and F-35 AESA radars. The APG-83 radar shares more than 95% software commonality with the F-35 radar and more than 70% hardware commonality.
How is LM going to participate in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative?
We intend to create far more than an “assembly line” in India. The platform being offered will give Indian industry a unique opportunity to become a part of the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem. Also, the platform provides unmatched opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes, including micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs) and suppliers throughout India, to establish new business relationships with Lockheed Martin and other industry leaders in the US and around the globe.
What is new on offer?
The aircraft brings the most modern avionics, a proven AESA radar and modernised cockpit, advanced weapons, longer range with conformal fuel tanks, auto ground collision avoidance capability, and an advanced engine with an extended service life. Even with the addition of targeting systems and two 2,000 pound (lb) class joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs), the aircraft has a mission radius exceeding 1,300 km — 30 % greater than that of the closest competitor. Also, many of the advances in systems on the aircraft India would get draw directly from key lessons learned from Lockheed Martin’s work on the F-22 and the F-35. The AESA radar is the result of over two decades of investment, use and experience with AESA technology, and it’s fully operational today.