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An Industrial Bonanza

Lockheed Martin has offered to transfer its entire production line to the IAF

A FORCE Report

An Industrial Bonanza New Delhi: Determined to show that it means business when it comes to giving shape to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call of ‘Make in India’, Lockheed Martin is making an unprecedented offer to India. It is offering to sell not just the F-16 Block 70 fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF), but transfer the entire production line to India, so much so that, progressively this line would cater to all Block 70 customers, in addition to the IAF, out of India.

“We have never done this before. It is indeed quite unique to India,” vice president, Aeronautics Strategy & Business Development, Lockheed Martin, George Standridge told FORCE in a conversation during his recent visit to India. “We are serious about this,” he insisted. “Never in the history of Lockheed Martin have we ever offered to transfer all future production of F-16 to another country, though we have built fighters in four other countries. What we are offering to India is quite remarkable. Sometimes I feel that the significance of this is not being understood correctly.” That was one of the reasons for his India visit: to impress upon the government of India and the domestic industry what all entails the Lockheed offer.

So, what exactly does transferring the entire line to India means?

Standridge, a former naval aviator, was only too happy to be asked. He said, “A fighter is built in sequence. What we are proposing is to transfer this sequence in a step by step manner, until the final production, including manufacture of components, start to happen in India. The intent is to transfer all the production sequence to India.” This would mean that all the parts that are produced in other countries will be brought to India for the final assembly. The supply chain would culminate in India. Moreover, since several of those moving parts can also be made in India over a period of time, India would be both, a part of the supply chain as well as the final production centre.

“Hence, India will build all future F-16 Block 70s, not just for the IAF but other customers too,” he said. “No one has ever done that before.”

How does Lockheed intend to do this? Will this be a joint venture (JV) with an Indian company, or will Lockheed Martin establish a subsidiary in India to which it will transfer the technology?

Standridge raised the level of the question before answering. He said: “We are not new to India. We have a JV with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), which builds components for C-130J. We are very comfortable with one another and have similar work culture. Above all, we both play fair. So, yes when we will come to the stage of transferring production here, it will be through a JV. And if it is our decision, then we would like to go with Tata.”

Of course, Indian industry will not start making the F-16s overnight. Standridge accepts that following the order by the IAF, the first few aircraft will be made in the US and supplied to India in a flyaway condition. Progressively, the Indian component would increase in the production even as work will commence to set up the line here. Standridge estimates that the entire process may take up to five to six years.

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