Lockheed Martin has offered to transfer its entire production line to the IAF
A FORCE Report
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.
Given that everything is still ‘all in the air’ at the moment, Lockheed Martin is playing safe. While it has been discussing some aspects of this with TASL, for the last one year it has also been in talks with other companies in India. The idea is that if the government of India asks for a proposal, Lockheed would have it down to the last detail.
To that end, Lockheed had organised an ‘Industry Day’ in Bengaluru during Standridge’s visit. It brought its suppliers from all over the world, in addition to the US, to meet with the Indian industry, over 30 of whom had attended the event. This gave an opportunity to both sides to explore the possibility of forging independent partnerships to cater to various aspects of fighter production in case the F-16 programme takes off in India.
“What we intend to do is build a manufacturing eco-system here,” said Standridge. “We want to develop relationships across our entire supply chain with the Indian industry. So, in the long run, Indian industry would have developed partnerships with not just Lockheed but our entire supply chain.”
In any defence programme in India, the industrial tie-ups, despite the niggling doubts of capacity and capability, are the easiest to achieve. The difficult part is reaching the message across to the government in a manner that gets its attention. How effective has Standridge been on that count?
“I must say that your government has been very gracious with its time,” he said. “I had an opportunity of having a conversation with them. In our conversation we made sure that we understand what is important to the Indian government, both from industry point of view and the capability point of view.”
Lockheed has been at pains to explain to the ministry of defence that it is capable of executing what it claims. And in this, its history with other countries comes in handy, as Lockheed misses no opportunity to emphasise that they have done this thing before, both with F-16 and F-35.
This leaves the last cog in the wheel of the fighter programme: the Indian Air Force (IAF). And if the experience of the MMRCA campaign is anything to go by, then this is the most important factor which can determine whether there will be an F-16 programme in India or not. So how does the IAF feel about the fighter?
Standridge is careful with his words. He doesn’t make claims about the IAF, all he says is that Lockheed has the US government’s support in pursuing this programme in India and the technology of transfer will be done in a government to government agreement. Given the nature of India-US relations, this alone could be a deal-maker, but Standridge does not rely on this alone.
“The aircraft that we are offering to the IAF is F-16 Block 70,” he said. “It represents the pinnacle of the F-16 fighter. We are also building two 5th Gen fighters, so we are bringing in a lot of those capabilities into this aircraft to ensure that it has a robust life for decades to come.” Whether the IAF agrees with this or not, remains to be seen.
F-16 Block 70
The latest from the F-16 stable has next generation avionics and upgraded core computers. The radar is Northrop Grumman’s APG-83, Active Electronic Scanned Array (AESA) with multimode capability that can track at least 20 targets at the same time while continuing to support a designated scan pattern. The radar can detect and track fixed and moving ground and sea targets. The high resolution synthetic aperture mode enables autonomous, all-environment precision targeting.
The fighter also comes with a single high-performance modular mission computer (MMC) system instead of the earlier three computers. From the pilots’ perspective, this improves situational awareness, air-to-air capabilities, targeting accuracy and information.
In terms of weapons, Block 70 will offer the IAF a wider variety to choose from. Over the years, Lockheed Martin has certified more than 3,300 carriage and release configurations for more than 180 weapons and store types. F-16 weapons span multiple classes and categories for a broad range of missions. The F-16 Block 70 software also includes a robust pilot weapon delivery training simulation capability that covers all the requested weapons. The simulation training provides full training without the need to carry weapons on board the aircraft.
Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System II (JHMCS II) displays aircraft performance and weapons employment data on the pilot’s visor. JHMCS II enables the pilot to aim weapons and sensors simply by turning his/her head.
The automatic ground collision avoidance system (AGCAS) provides the pilot with improved situational awareness of imminent collision with the ground. The system can take control of the aircraft to avoid a collision if the pilot is somehow unable to respond to the visual cues.