F-16 for the IAF

Decision by Lockheed Martin to transfer the F-16 production line to India would be contingent on whether the Government of India selects this aircraft for the Indian Air Force

Issue: 11 / 2016By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Lockheed Martin

On the evening of November 7 this year, Abhay Paranjape, National Executive for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Business Development in India, Randall L. Howard, Director of Business Development, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company Integrated Fighter Group, and Mark D. Johnson, F-35 Media Relations, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, carried out a briefing for few selected members of the Bengaluru-based media. The three senior executives were accompanied by a team from the Lockheed Martin plant at Fort Worth, Texas. Their visit to Bengaluru was meant primarily for interaction with the aerospace industry located here, both in the public and private sector. This initiative by Lockheed Martin was apparently a consequence of communication to the company from the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) seeking a proposal to manufacture a fighter aircraft in India under the ‘Make in India’ programme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In their response to the communication from the MoD, the American aerospace and defence major Lockheed Martin has offered to transfer lock, stock, and barrel, their only functioning production line of the F-16 from its present location in Fort Worth in the US to one in India as decided upon by the Government of India. Lockheed Martin believes that on account of the advantage of cost of production being significantly lower in India, there should logically be increase in global demand. For India, this move will generate a large number of skilled jobs, an attractive proposition indeed!

However, the decision by Lockheed Martin to transfer the F-16 production line to India would be contingent on whether the Government of India selects this aircraft for the combat fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The platform will be then manufactured exclusively in India to meet the requirement of the IAF as also of other operators of the aircraft across the world. As per Lockheed Martin, indications are that the production facility of the fighter aircraft would be located somewhere in central India in the proximity of a fighter base. When queried about the possible contenders in the race for this project, executives of Lockheed Martin were of the view that as the MoD appeared to be inclined to go for a single-engine combat aircraft, it is unlikely that the Boeing F/A-18 would be competing for this project. In their opinion, the only other original equipment manufacturer (OEM) involved in the production of fighter aircraft in the race would then be Saab of Sweden with their offer of the new E version of the single-engine JAS-39 Gripen.

However, as per a statement by the Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar, the MoD is likely to select a second combat platform for production in India. In the absence of a clear statement from the MoD regarding preference for a single-engine fighter, it would not be logical to exclude twin-engine combat aircraft from the race. Hence the F/A-18, the Dassault Rafale and the Russian Su-35, all twin-engine platforms, could well enter the race at least in the second project if not in the first.

THE PROPOSAL IS IN A NASCENT STAGE AND SHOULD IT FRUCTIFY, THE MOD OUGHT TO SEEK CLARITY ON ISSUES RELATED TO TRANSFER OF TECHNOLOGY AND SHARING OF COSTS

As per Lockheed Martin, the initial requirement indicated by the MoD would be for 100 aircraft of which 14 would be supplied by the company in flyaway condition. This figure appears to be rather low given the fact that the combat fleet of the IAF is currently deficient by 180 aircraft and by the time the production line is relocated in India and delivery of the aircraft commences, the deficiency in the combat fleet is likely to go up to around 300 platforms. Also to restore the operational capability of the IAF quickly enough, it would be advisable to enhance the percentage of aircraft acquired in flyaway condition to enable the IAF make the fleet operational as soon as possible and arrest the rapidly eroding combat capability.

Brief History of the Fighting Falcon

The origins of the F-16, called the Fighting Falcon, can be traced back to 1976. It was then developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) by General Dynamics, now Lockheed Martin, as an air superiority fighter to operate only by day. However, it was soon transformed into an all-weather, day and night multi-role combat aircraft and has had a highly successful track record since then. In the last four decades, the company has received orders for a total of 4,588 aircraft from 27 countries of which 4,573 have been delivered so far. With 138 versions produced, the platform has undergone more than 1,000 upgrades. Although no longer being procured by the USAF, upgraded versions are still being built for export customers. Currently the F-16 is being operated by 25 countries across the globe including our not so friendly neighbour Pakistan. As of 2015, it is the second most common fighter aircraft currently operational in the world.

The F-16 Block 70

The state-of-the-art F-16 Block 70 is a fourth-plus-generation aircraft being developed by Lockheed Martin exclusively for the IAF. This platform is an evolution of the proven design and is equipped with next-generation technology that will provide the required combat capabilities in a scalable and affordable package. The unique technological features of this platform include avionics equipment of the latest technology. These are as under:

  • Advanced data transfer equipment.
  • Active electronically scanned array radar.
  • Common data entry electronics unit.
  • Digital flight control computer.
  • Embedded GPS/INS.
  • Improved programmable display generator.
  • Joint helmet mounted cueing system.
  • Night vision imaging system.

Of the avionics equipment listed above, what merits special mention is the APG 83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) which is an AESA radar that actually gives the platform fifthgeneration capability. The beam agility of the APG 83 enables interleaved air-to-air and air-to-surface operations that can be tailored to meet specific mission requirements. It provides longrange search and track capability against at least 20 airborne targets simultaneously in a cone of 120 degrees and provides a far greater system reliability. The APG 83 can also detect and track fixed and moving targets on the ground or over the sea. The high resolution synthetic aperture mode enables autonomous and all-environment precision targeting. The system can continue to function effectively even in the most challenging electronic warfare environment.

Strategic Perspective

Transfer of production line of the F-16 aircraft to India and closure of the facility in the US would have implications for Pakistan which still operates a large fleet of this aircraft. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) will not be able to procure any more of these platforms. This would also disrupt the supply of spares to the PAF. This would compel Pakistan to move closer to China for collaboration in the regime of the military. However, the deal with Lockheed Martin if it does go through will provide further boost to US-India defence ties which may be in conformity with the priorities of the new dispensation in the United States.

The Final Word

As the production line for the F-16 in Fort Worth is planned to be shut down by the end of this decade, it is understandable that the OEM is looking for options to continue product support for the air forces of 25 nations that continue to operate this platform as also to meet the demand for additional aircraft from the existing customers and possibly new customers. The proposal to relocate production line to India is as yet in a nascent stage and should it fructify, the MoD would have to seek clarity on two major issues namely transfer of technology and sharing of costs. Lockheed Martin appears extremely keen to see the project through. However, the policies of the new government in the US in respect of collaboration in the regime of aerospace and defence industry will be critical to the success of the theme of Lockheed Martin of “For India, From India, Exported to the World”.