June 20, 2017 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Lockheed Martin and India's Tata Group formalized an agreement to relocate the manufacturing of the most advanced F-16s to India. The effort is aimed at securing a multi-billion dollar deal from Delhi.
UAEAF F-16F block 60 #3009 is buzzing by the lens at Aero India. The aircraft is used by Lockheed as demonstration aircraft for the Indian F-16IN tender for 126 multi-role aircraft. Note the 'F-16IN' markings on the tail base. [Photo by Rahul Devnath]
The announcement comes days ahead of Indian PM Narendra Modi's visit to Washington for a meeting with President Trump.
The F-16 Block 70 is the next production version of the fighter jet and would be the only F-16 version in production. As such, India would become the future home of F-16 production worldwide.
The arrangement may still take years to bear fruit as Lockheed and Tata first need to win a formal bidding process to begin co-manufacturing.
India needs to replace over 200 aged MiGs that are already pushing the expiry date. It tries to ease its traditional reliance on Russia by diversifying its buying options. India already bought French Rafales off the shelf in 2016 but now the F-16s are said to be up against competition from Sweden's Saab group and its Gripen jets.
The deal is subject to the condition that the F-16 Block 70 fighter jet emerges as the winner of an Indian Air Force competition to procure more than 100 single-engine fighters.
Lockheed Martin will move its only operational line producing the F-16s from Texas to India if it wins the contract. The F-16 production in India will support thousands of jobs in the US, said a joint statement issued from Paris, apparently to counter expected criticism that the deal would fall foul of Mr Trump's "America First" policy.
Besides providing full service support for the F-16, the agreement will enable the Indian company to offer all future upgrades for the aircraft on its own, they said.
Some critics in India wonder if the agreement with Tata is an effort by Lockheed to offload old technology in India. The F-16 was developed in the '70s and the US Air Force
is phasing them out in favor of the more advanced F-35s. However the F-16 currently remains the backbone of the US Air Force's front line air fleet and they also recently announced plans to extend the structural service life of up to 841 of its F-16s.
A more valid point critics have is that it could take years for any F-16 to get off the assembly lines in India, assuming Lockheed-Tata win the tender and get on with the job of setting up manufacturing units.
Tata is already building airframe components for the C-130 military transport aircraft