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India to buy and manufacture F-16I?

March 22, 2007 (by Sadananda) - India has been offered the advanced F-16I Sufa, according to Defence News. The F-16I is a version specifically designed and built for Israel. As part of the deal, 108 of the 126 aircraft would be manufactured in India.

The F-16I 'Sufa' for the Israeli Air Force at the roll-out ceremony on November 14th, 2003, at LMTAS' Fort Worth facility. The F-16I features a dorsal spine, CFTs, and distributed RWR's, along with improved avionics.

In a Tel Aviv-datelined dispatch, it said, "Fighter jets vying for India's $8 billion Medium-range Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program may have to make room for a late entry: the Lockheed Martin F-16I "Sufa" (Storm). The Sufa has a significant amount of content manufactured by Israeli defense industries, designed in accordance with the technical specifications of the Israel Air Force (IAF).

In an unprecedented move aimed at sharpening its edge over fellow US and international competitors, Lockheed Martin is eyeing the F-16I since mid last year as a low-cost, high-performance alternative to the French Rafale, the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing's F/A-18E/F and the Russian MiG-35."

The report, quoting US and Israeli sources, said that the precise configuration of the single-engine aircraft offered would depend on the operational and industrial requirements detailed in New Delhi's upcoming request for proposals (RfP). However, Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas, Aeronautics unit has begun asking the US government for third-country export licences.

"We have submitted a request for licensing of an F-16 configuration that we think will match the Indian Air Force requirements, pending our receipt of the RfP," said Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout. He declined to elaborate on specific technologies and subsystems that could be included in the company's bid. He said a team dedicated to the MMRCA programme has been working since the beginning of the year on a number of F-16 configurations that may prove more compatible with operational needs as well as New Delhi's requirements for offsets and industrial cooperation. Other options could include a variant of the F-16 block 60, which carries advanced US avionics and the Northrop Grumman APG-80 active electronically scanned radar, or on the Block 50/52 versions flown by the US Air Force and now being produced for several air forces.

Defence News, an online military and defence news portal, said if Lockheed offered the F-16I to India, it would be the first time an extensively modified US fighter containing non-US-made avionics, weaponry and major sub-systems had been offered at the front end of an international competition. Lockheed has sold to Chile and Singapore F-16s that contained significant Israeli content, but those items were demanded by the customers from the start. "To the best of my knowledge, the idea of pitching a US fighter with significant, technologically advanced third-party content hasn't been done before," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based aerospace and defense consulting firm. "If this is the case, and the US government allows Lockheed to offer a clone of the Israel Air Force plane, it's another indication of the unprecedented military and diplomatic initiatives being taken to promote a US win in this strategically important programme."

The new MMRCAs are expected to complement New Delhi's high-end fleet of Su-30MKIs and the lower-end, locally developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. Initial requests for information called for 18 aircraft to be delivered directly from the prime contractor, with 108 to be produced under license in India. Since then, however, the Indian Air Force has been lobbying to expand the buy to more than 200 planes, as a hedge against additional delays of the Tejas. Indian Air Force sources said MMRCA orders could be split among two countries. According to these sources, a decision to award more than one contract would speed deliveries to the Air Force while doubling the political benefits to be accrued through tandem cooperative programmes

Additional images:

Israeli Air Force 'Sufa' F-16I patch - Shiny cloth variant (Michael Weinberger Collection)