Interview | Vice president and chief executive, Lockheed Martin India, William L. Blair

We Are Open to Supporting India’s AMCA Programme… Our F-21 Proposal For the IAF Would be a Key Enabler of Close Collaboration on Advanced Fighter Aircraft

William L. Blair, Vice President & Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin IndiaWhat is the update on the MRFA programme? What kind of engagement do you have with the stakeholders in India?

Lockheed Martin continues to build upon our more than three decades of partnership with India, expand collaborations with local industry to support the evolution of indigenous defence manufacturing ecosystem, and further advance India’s strategic security and industrial capabilities. We plan to further expand this partnership with India through our unprecedented F-21 offer for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

We are confident F-21 will truly be a game-changer for the IAF, Indian industry and India-US strategic ties. It is the best solution to meet the IAF capability needs, provide ‘Make in India’ industrial opportunities and accelerate India-US cooperation on advanced technologies. In fact, if selected, the F-21 would be exclusively produced in India.

Our successful joint ventures in Hyderabad established over a decade ago—­Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL) and Tata Sikorsky Aerospace Limited (TSAL), have been instrumental in helping India achieve its goal of developing an aerospace and defence supplier ecosystem, promote indigenous manufacturing and participating in the global supply chain. Located in Hyderabad, the TLMAL facility manufactures major aerostructure components for the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. This is the sole supplier of these components to Lockheed Martin and is an integral part of our global supply chain. To date, TLMAL has manufactured 130 C-130J empennages.

It also manufactures other aerostructure components like the centre wing box. Recently, work has also begun to create a first of its kind autoclave capability for composites.

The TSAL facility manufactures aerospace components for commercial helicopters and aircraft and has expanded to include aircraft engine components for aerospace industry companies as well. As of now, TSAL has delivered 154 S-92 cabins to date. The facility’s machines, manpower and talent are world class. It produces some of the most advanced aerospace components being used in helicopters.

Nearly 240 suppliers feed into these joint ventures and have benefited from the vision of Lockheed Martin and Tata working together. Both of these ventures are a testament of our partnership with India and Indian industry. The JVs and partners we have established over the last decade have generated value flowed down to Indian Tier 1/2/3 large, Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups supporting a foundation for the defence and aerospace ecosystem in India.

We have integrated more than 70 Indian suppliers into our global supply chain. We are looking to build on the company’s existing foundation in India by identifying additional strategic partners from across the country, to include companies of all sizes—large, MSMEs and start-ups.


What has been the response of IAF on F-21? To what extent is it different from the F-16 Block 70 that was being offered earlier? How will it be ‘Made in India’?

The F-21 aircraft has been designed keeping in mind, the unique needs of the IAF. The differences between the F-21 and F-16 become clear when looking at the unique capabilities of the F-21 including an advanced APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, an Advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) System, Long-Range Infrared Search & Track (IRST) and Triple Missile Launcher Adapters (TMLAs).

The APG-83 AESA radar has detection ranges nearly double that of previous mechanically scanned array radars and the ability to track and attack more targets with higher precision. The Long-Range Infrared Search & Track (IRST), enables pilots to detect threats without getting detected. Triple Missile Launcher Adapters (TMLAs) allow the F-21 to carry 40 per cent more air-to-air weapons.

Additionally, the F-21 also comes with a Dorsal Fairing which enables increased growth capacity and indigenous systems integration in the future. The F-21 is also the only fighter in the world with both probe/drogue and boom aerial fueling capability. This, along with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs), delivers greater range penetration and loitering staying power to the IAF.

Simply put, the F-21 goes further, faster, and stays longer than the competition—all at the most optimal Life Cycle Cost for the IAF—with the longest service life of any competitor–12,000 flight hours. Whether you are talking about battlefields or budgets, the F-21 is the clear choice for India.

An F-21 partnership would integrate India into the world’s largest and most successful fighter aircraft ecosystem—a USD165 billion market for future opportunities with possibilities for expansion of footprints, further development of indigenous capabilities and global supplier relationships. The selection of F-21 will demonstrate Lockheed Martin’s commitment to India: to deliver an advanced, single-engine, scalable fighter to the IAF that also provides unrivaled industrial partnership opportunities supporting India’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ Abhiyaan.

At the 11th edition of DefExpo, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), a premier aerospace and defense company in India to explore industrial opportunities for the F-21 programme. We believe that an F-21 partnership with India integrates Indian industry, including BEL, into the world’s largest and most successful fighter aircraft ecosystem and demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to India. We continue to seek strategic relationships with the Indian defence public sector and private sector companies spanning large, MSMEs and start-ups to be both competitive and meet the Indian self-reliance initiatives and indigenous content requirements.

Additionally, the F-21 aircraft also complements IAF’s existing fleet as it fits right in between the Tejas and Rafale to provide an operational gap-filler.


Given Lockheed Martin’s vast portfolio and history of work in India, what are your other areas of interest here? What opportunities do you see in the future? Are you engaging with the DRDO on indigenous 5th-Gen fighter?

Lockheed Martin has a wide span of capabilities across four business units—Aeronautics, Rotary and Mission Systems, Missiles and Fire Control, and Space. Given our commitment to India, we bring to bear all of them to supporting our Indian customers’ missions. We have enjoyed a long partnership with India and Lockheed Martin Space is excited about the recent developments surrounding India space and its willingness to open its facilities to support future cooperation and collaborative efforts within the space domain. We have been investing in local industry and manufacturing here since 2010 which has provided further impetus to our plans.

We have always had a keen interest in India’s space sector, and following the recent announcements made by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) we continue to closely observe these recent development changes. In conjunction with our Lockheed Martin India team, we are now studying potential opportunities that will contribute towards a mutually beneficial outcome.

India has witnessed a tremendous development of the space sector since the launch of Aryabhata in 1975 in the areas of satellite manufacturing, launch, space science and defensive space and there are exciting opportunities for us to support the country in its space advancement programme.

Lockheed Martin has worked with Ashok Leyland to develop the next generation military vehicle for India and global market. The vehicle has been field evaluated in various environmental conditions by the Indian customers and has been selected by some of the military users in India. Lockheed Martin’s engineering support, and the cooperative working relationship with Ashok Leyland was instrumental for the success of development and production of indigenous equipment—another great example of the ‘Make in India’ concept.

We are certainly open to supporting India’s AMCA programme, should there be an opportunity to do so. Public-private partnerships are a key part of building strategic, long-term international defence partnerships that benefit multiple stakeholders. Our F-21 proposal for the IAF would be a key enabler of close collaboration on advanced fighter aircraft.


How do you view the future of C-130J in India? Both the Indian Coast Guard and National Disaster Management Authority were interested in acquiring it at one point. Has any conversation begun?

The C-130J represents a strong legacy of partnership between India and the US. In December 2019, we delivered the 12th C-130J aircraft to the IAF and are honoured to continue to support the Indian armed forces in their tactical airlift missions.

India’s C-130Js have been used to support a variety of missions over the past few years, to include: humanitarian aid, natural disaster support (numerous floods; and an IAF C-130J was the first aircraft to land and extend support during the Nepal earthquake), airlift, search and rescue, and special operations.

The Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) C-130J Super Hercules have a highly integrated and sophisticated configuration primarily designed to support India’s special operations requirement. Equipped with an Infrared Detection Set (IDS), the aircraft can perform precision low-level flying, airdrops and landing in blackout conditions. Self-protection systems and other features are included to ensure aircraft survivability in hostile air defense environments. The aircraft also are equipped with air-to-air receiver refueling capability for extended range operations.

While 12 C-130Js support IAF crews in a multitude of missions, India’s connection to the C-130 isn’t just through its Super Hercules operations. Since 2011, all new-production C-130Js have been built with components that are made in India, another great example of the ‘Make in India’ concept in practice.

Please contact the Indian Coast Guard and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) for any questions about ongoing and future airlift requirements. Lockheed Martin is ready to support India’s airlift needs and is proud of the partnership that has developed as a result of the IAF’s C-130J acquisition.



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