Aero India 2019: Name game! Is US giant Lockheed Martin offering India upgraded F-16 as F-21?

By: | Updated: February 21, 2019 3:52 PM

The company has been in an overdrive to sell F-16 Block 70/72 and to produce in India. However, till date no agreement is signed and is not expected to be signed any time soon as the elections are round the corner in India and it will be a few months more after the new government is in place to take decisions regarding choosing aircraft to meet the shortage of fighters in the IAF.

Aero India 2019, Lockheed Martin, Indian Air Force, F-21, F-16,  Make in India,  Aero India show, Lockheed Martin F-22The company in its statement has said that F-21 addresses the IAF’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem with the world’s pre-eminent defence company. (Photo source: Lockheed Martin India)

Aero India 2019: Air Force Station, Yehlanka – International aerospace giants were surprised when Lockheed Martin unveiled their F-21 at the Aero India show. The company in its statement has emphasised its commitment to India by unveiling the F-21 multi-role fighter for India, which is specifically configured for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The aircraft is expected to provide unmatched Make in India opportunities and strengthens India’s path to an advanced airpower future.

However, sources confirmed to the Financial Express Online that this is merely an upgraded version of the F-16, with cosmetic changes. There is not much different between the Block 60 and Block 70 that the US based aerospace has been pushing in the Indian market.

The company has been in an overdrive to sell F-16 Block 70/72 and to produce in India. However, till date no agreement is signed and is not expected to be signed any time soon as the elections are round the corner in India and it will be a few months more after the new government is in place to take decisions regarding choosing aircraft to meet the shortage of fighters in the IAF.

Also read| Aero India 2019: Pursuing many opportunities under govt’s Make in India programme, says Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce India

As has been reported earlier, the US Company had offered Block 70 of F-16 to India and had offered to shift the production line to India depending on the orders of the Indian Air Force.

Sharing his views, Air Marshal M Matheswaran (retd), Chairman and President, The Peninsula Foundation, said that, “What they have announced is the upgraded F-16. Every aircraft goes through multiple upgrades. And each country has different requirements based on which changes are made. The Block 60 for instance underwent some changes based on the request of the government of UAE. Those changes made the aircraft bulkier.”

According to Matheswaran, “Seeing the resistance in India against the F-16s the company has made cosmetic changes, tailored to marketing in India as F-21. These are made to address the psychological block that India has as the F-16 is flying with the Pakistan Air Force.”

The company in its statement has said that F-21 addresses the IAF’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem with the world’s pre-eminent defence company.

Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems would produce the F-21 in India, for India. “The F-21 is different, inside and out,” said Dr Vivek Lall, vice president of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “The new [F-21] designation highlights our commitment to delivering an advanced, scalable fighter aircraft to the IAF that also provides unrivalled industrial opportunities and accelerates closer India-US cooperation on advanced technologies.”

This unprecedented Make in India opportunity combines the strength of the world’s largest defence contractor with India’s premier industrial house to deliver a historic win-win for India and the US.

Bahrain recently became Lockheed’s first F-16 Block 70 customer and Slovakia has also selected the Block 70. The company is also proposing new Block 70 aircraft for Bulgaria and several other potential customers.

THE LOCKHEED OFFER

The US based 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 Indian Air Force (IAF) has to choose the world’s largest-sold fighter aircraft for its fleet.

However, no decision for the aircraft suitable to meet the immediate needs of the IAF is expected to be taken in the next six months. The Block 70/72 F-16 that is proposed is nothing but the same Block 60 aircraft developed for the UAE air force.

Sources have confirmed that this is the same aircraft that participated in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition to supply 126 multi-role combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and was rejected, along with Swedish SAAB ‘Gripen’ in 2011.

To be precise, the critical reasons for the failure of F-16 at the time was that there was no room for any improvements or growth in the aircraft. The F-16 in a new garb of F-21 being offered to India for the IAF has absolutely no growth potential.

Why not F-16s?

The F-16 is a 40-year-old air frame; all the upgrades that are possible are already done.

There is no room for any more growth.

F-16’s airframe is a third generation design that has outlived its utility.

It cannot measure up to even 4th generation aircraft any more, despite all the avionics upgrades. Its components, aggregates, fuel efficiency, life cycle costs, will all be in the 3rd generation.”

Today, modern fighter designs, whether single or twin engine, have matured — enabled by high technologies such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis — such that these aircraft are highly manoeuvrable and have exceptional dogfight capabilities.

Aided by new technology radars and beyond visual range missiles, these aircraft are super fighters with exceptional dog fight or combat capability.

Best examples are Russian Su-30, Su-35, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 & F-35, French ‘Rafale’, and European ‘ Typhoon’, etc.

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