Lockheed Martin, Tata, join hands to build F-16 planes in India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 19 June 2017

Lockheed Martin, Tata, join hands to build F-16 planes in India

Likely to compete in single-engine fighter contract with Gripen E, built by Saab-Adani combine

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th June 17

US defence giant, Lockheed Martin, and India’s Tata Group signed an agreement on Monday to jointly build the F-16 Block 70 fighter in India, should New Delhi opt for the American aircraft in the procurement of single-engine fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) that was initiated last October.

Highlighting the importance of this contract for the Tata Group’s aerospace and defence aspirations, Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata personally attended the signing ceremony at the on-going Paris Air Show in France.

The Tata Group has earmarked Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) to actually build the F-16 in India with technology and manufacturing facilities transferred from Lockheed Martin.

Coming ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States this month, Lockheed Martin’s inking of this joint venture (JV) – which would have required formal clearance from Washington – indicates that, despite President Donald Trump’s promises to keep skilled jobs in the US, his administration is willing to transfer the ageing F-16 production line from Texas to India.

TASL and Lockheed Martin already have a JV that manufactures airframe components in Hyderabad, including for the C-130J Super Hercules airlifter and the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.

C-130J production from that JV goes towards fulfilling Lockheed Martin’s offset obligations. However, the manufacture of F-16 Block 70 would be a far more ambitious project. This would first require the ministry of defence (MoD) to select the Tata Group as an Indian “strategic partner” for aircraft production.

Next, the IAF and MoD would have to choose the F-16 Block 70 as the IAF’s single-engine fighter aircraft. That multi-billion dollar procurement has already kicked off with the issue of a global Request for Information (RFI) by the IAF.

MoD and IAF sources confirm aviation market intelligence that the IAF’s chosen fighter is likely to be either the F-16 Block 70, or the Gripen E fighter that Swedish company, Saab, has offered India.

In case the IAF opts for Saab’s Gripen E, the role of Indian partner is likely to fall to the Adani Group, say senior Saab executives. The Adani Group, despite its lack of experience in defence or aerospace, is positioning itself to be chosen as a “strategic partner” for this purpose.

Lockheed Martin expects the IAF will choose the F-16, based on the calculation that transferring the world’s only F-16 production line to India “creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the center of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world”, as a company release today stated.

Lockheed Martin points out that over 4,500 F-16s have been built since the 1970s, of which approximately 3,200 fighters remain in operational service in 26 countries. An Indian production line could expect to benefit from their custom, including, ironically, from the Pakistan Air Force.

The IAF’s global procurement of single-engine fighters stems from the failure of its high-profile acquisition project for 126 “medium multi-role combat aircraft” (MMRCA), which fizzled out into the procurement of just 36 Rafale fighters from French company, Dassault.

The shortfall of 90 fighters this created, along with the likely retirement of almost 200 MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters this decade, drives the IAF’s requirement for the early production of single-engine fighters.

Exacerbating the IAF’s fighter shortfalls is Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s slippages in building 100 Tejas light fighters, designed and developed in India by the Defence R&D Organisation.

Defence planning guidelines require the IAF to operate 42 fighter squadrons, with 21 aircraft in each. It is 10 squadrons short of that level at present.


  1. This is really, really bad news. Why are the Tatas not taking up one (or two) production line(s) of the LCA Tejas.

    We need Tejas deployments very quickly and there is also significant export potential...

  2. Light fighter role is being given to tejas, once rafale offset enables kaveri. In the meantime, to make up for the delay, Saab jet acquisition is very likely.

    F16 is being phased out and there is no way India will(directly or directly) bankroll this production line.

    The only way the Americans can break the ice with India is if they can transfer turbofan technology to India. This move is unlikely because it will break the balance between India via a vis china/pakistan.

    If India does achieve a turbofan breakthrough on its own, expect the Americans to transfer this technology to Pakistan/china. That is balancing 101.

  3. IAF has two distinct requirements for light jets :

    1. Replacement of about 125+ Mig-21 fighter jets.
    2. Replacement of about 200+ MiG-27/MiG-23 fighter bombers.

    LCA is designed for 1. Please clarify, I think it is primarily a point defence fighter with secondary attack capability.

    Maybe F-16/Grippen is for 2. F-16 has over the years evolved into fine strike fighter (starting from attack on Iraq nuclear reactor by Isrealies)

    This fundamental point is not clarified by any blog writer .

  4. "over 4,500 F-16s have been built since the 1970s"


  5. It will be a great challenge to the present Indian Government in terms of keeping JV's (Tata-Lockheed and Adani-Saab) supported lobbyists away from the final deal. It is about the time when acclaimed journalists, media houses, so-called defence experts, middlemen and officials will start receiving direct (money) or indirect benefits (foreign holidays, properties etcs) from these JVs to plant stories in the public to create an atmosphere that benefits them. The final deal will obviously be criticised by the opposite gang. It is a pity to see the Tejas MK2 project lagging far behind, which would have otherwise eliminated the need to these aircrafts. Let's hope this deal won't affect the development of Tejas and its successors, which has been chastised by both IAF and Indian Navy, who are addicted to foreign hardwares.

  6. I agree with the first commentator. With HAL slipping, why doesn't Tata come forward to build Tejas planes ? With 400+ MiG-21s, MiG-27s, Mig-29s and Mirages to replace, the Tejas Mk.1 is definitely a worthy addition to the IAF. They could even help in the development of the Tejas Mk.2, which will rival the F-16 E and Gripen E in range-payload and avionic specifications.

    Surely, if the Tatas are bold enough to dream about build F-16s, they can surely build the Tejas, can't they ?

    But unfortunately, this proves that now India will remain a license manufacturer of foreign defence hardware, with the only difference being that the PSUs like HAL and OFB will be replaced by Indian private companies.

  7. china will built their own y 20 , heavy lift helicopters ,combat helicopters, J 20, J31
    wide body airliners in their own country thats called nationality ,

    now compare to this "Make in India"

    while our country and armed forces don't like anything indian, indian army is good example,

    these rich industrialist never invested single penny for defence R&D now they want defence production share.


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