Lockheed Martin, the US-based firm which manufactures the F-16 fighting falcon fighter jets, recently offered to build its flagship F-16 jet in India to “support the Make in India” mission. Experts are, however, of the opinion that the manufacturer is lobbying for India to agree to a contractual commitment of buying some of the manufactured F-16 jets from the firm, if it sets up shop in India.
“The issue that the Americans have is that they lost out in an earlier deal when India chose the Dassault Rafale. They want us to reveal our technical requirements and the number of planes that we need. They are unable to get the information from us. That is why aggressive lobbying is being done on the part of Lockheed Martin. Now they are trying to hardsell these planes to us using the ‘Make in India’ pitch. Of course, the Prime Minister wants to increase the share of manufacturing sector in the GDP. That doesn’t mean we can’t see through their tricks. Look at Pakistan, it has always been on the wrong end of the deal when it has bought the F-16. They are overpriced, have an old design. No amount of improvements can make it better than the current generation fighters. Why won’t we invest in them? Why the F-16?” B.N. Chugh, Air Commodore (Retd) and a national security analyst told The Sunday Guardian.
The latest F-16IN jets were rejected for commissioning by India, while the Indian government was looking to buy Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) jets. The government eventually went for the French Rafale. The F-16IN was rejected by the Indian government for not complying to conditions like growth potential, carefree handling (and automatic sensing of external stores), sustained turn rate, engine change time, and assurance against obsolescence over a 15-year period. The F-16 is the most widely used aircraft in the world with over 4,500 units currently in operation in over 30 countries around the world.
A top-source in the Ministry of Defence said told this newspaper that Lockheed Martin’s chairman, president and CEO Marillyn Hewson “has been steadily pursuing the government to agree to this deal. The Ministry is considering the proposal at this moment. It will be detrimental to India’s military interests if we were to buy these jets. They are the latest of a 40-year-old jet programme. They haven’t even guaranteed any growth potential for the jets. Why would we buy jets from the US which it itself does not use to any noticeable end?”
The Indian government is in the process of replacing its ageing fleet of MiG 21 and MiG 27 jets. However, officials say that “the F-16 is not a replacement option for the MiGs as has been popularly said.”
“Tejas is the replacement. F-16 deal will be bad for India. We can’t waste billions of dollars just to push Make in India. For now, the Prime Minister has not committed to buying any aircraft from Lockheed Martin. It is worrisome that the US recently sold eight more F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. India will not agree to this deal if they sell newly manufactured F-16 jets to Pakistan,” the source said.
Lockheed Martin said in a release that they are interested in “making use of the engineering skill, cheap production cost and low cost labour available in India, if they start manufacturing here.”
Randall Howard, head of F-16 business development at Lockheed, said that the company is anxious to find out the Indian Air Force’s requirements for jets as it will help the company understand how many jets India is planning to buy.
India exported about $150 million worth of arms in the last fiscal. The global defence trade amounted to $64 billion.
India imported arms worth $5.6 billion during the same period.