July 20, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A news report claimed that Lockheed Martin is dangling its next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in front of India in a bid to win the IAC Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition.
The CNN-IBN news channel in India said last Thursday that Lockheed officials were urging India to acquire its F-16 fighters with the incentive of a possible deal down the road to add the F-35 Lightning II to its arsenal.
Lockheed Martin would like to win the MRCA tender for 126 multi-role aircraft issued earlier this year by India. India's current warplanes soon need to be replaced in a deal worth an estimated $10 billion.
"Beyond the (tender) that's on the horizon, the F-35 too could play a role, sometime in the future." Royce Caplinger, the managing director of Lockheed Martin Global Inc. stated on CNN-IBN. To sweeten the deal he indicated the JSF
could come at the same price as the F-16. Caplinger was in India to give the military a briefing on the capabilities of the F-35.
In May the Pentagon signed off on initial production of the JSF. At an expected cost of $276 billion when the entire project is complete, it will be one of the largest defense projects ever.
India is expected to evaluate the following aircraft:
- Lockheed Martin F-16C/D block 52+/60 (USA)
- Boeing' F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (USA)
- Dassault Aviation Rafale (France)
- Saab Gripen, (Sweden)
- Mikoyan MiG-35 Fulcrum F, a development of the latest MiG-29M2 with new engines and avionics (Russia)
- Eurofighter Typhoon
Unofficial reports suggest that the tender has now been cut down to five contenders though, with the Typhoon being eliminated.
India's aging fleet of MiG-21s, dating back from the 60s and nicknamed "flying coffins" in India, is currently the backbone of its fighter inventory, which also includes other MiG aircraft. Its 1,500-plane air force also has French Mirage and Anglo-French Jaguar planes.
Mikoyan and Dassault both have the advantage that they have historically been reliable suppliers in terms of transfers of technology, licensed production in India, personnel training, supply of spare parts, maintenance and upgrading. IAF pilots and technicians are also familiar with earlier aircraft from Mikoyan and Dassault and would need minimal retraining. Infrastructural and logistical support for maintenance and spares would also be easier for these aircraft compared to the unfamiliar F-16s, F/A-18s and Grippens.
The U.S. government would need to approve any sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to India.