New Delhi: If India were to acquire the US-designed F-16 fighter it would effectively mean that the Pakistan Air Force will not be able to acquire the latest variant of the jet that it has operated for 33 years.
- Lockheed Martin has offered to builld F-16 fighters in India
- Pak won't be able to acquire India-built F-16s
- India has recently bought 36 Rafale jets from France for 58,000 crores
That's because Lockheed Martin has proposed to the Indian government that it is willing to transfer its entire F-16 manufacturing line from Fort Worth in the US to India as part of the government's Make in India policy. In doing so, Lockheed would also aim to transfer the production of structural components of the F-16 from production facilities in multiple countries in a phased approach. If new-build F-16s are eventually constructed in India, there would be no question of them being exported to Pakistan. It is also unlikely that a production facility would be set up for the supply of just a handful of new-build F-16s to Pakistan.
Earlier this week, Lockheed Martin officially responded to an Indian government letter asking whether they would be able to provide the Indian Air Force with a high performance, single engine, multi-role fighter. Lockheed, which had also submitted an unsolicited bid earlier this year, has always stated that its F-16 should be the fighter of choice for the IAF despite it being the main fighter operated by its adversary, the Pakistan Air Force.
Senior executives of Lockheed Martin have indicated to NDTV that the transfer of the F-16 production line to India would mean that India and the US will have an altogether new strategic relationship since India would become the world's largest supply base for the 3,200 F-16s being operated by 24 countries around the world. Pakistan would be unwilling to acquire a made-in-India F-16 Block 70, the latest variant of the jet being proposed for India. India would, obviously, not be willing to supply its primary adversary with a fighter jet.
That said, Pakistan could, hypothetically, acquire components of its existing F-16 fighters from India if the production line were transferred here though Lockheed Martin executives point out that these spares would be stocked at company facilities outside India which would meet the requirement of any country.
Importantly, the variant of the jet that Lockheed is offering India is far more advanced than that operated by Pakistan since it would include technology used in the latest US Air Force fighters, the F-22 and the F-35. According to Randall L. Howard, who looks after F-16 Business Development for Lockheed Martin, "leveraging the technology that we've designed and integrated on F-22 and F-35, we are reintegrating those technologies back into the F-16. We're putting state of the art mission computers, data management systems, a one Gigabyte ethernet data system and a new centre pedestal display" onto the F-16 Block 70. In simple terms this means that the F-16, if acquired by the Indian Air Force, would have unparalleled data-fusion whereby inputs from its radars and other sensors would be processed and presented to the pilot in a cogent, easy-to-understand format on multi-function displays in the cockpit and a helmet-mounted sight worn by the pilot. The pilot would be able to simultaneously detect dozens of targets and threats in the air, on the ground and out at sea depending on the terrain.
But Lockheed Martin knows that winning a multi-billion dollar contract in India will not be easy. Swedish firm Gripen International is also responding to the Defence Ministry's letter by offering its state-of-the-art Gripen-E fighter which has recently been acquired by Brazil. Gripen’s parent company SAAB has offered to work with Hindustan Aeronautics to develop a new variant of India's Tejas Light Combat Aircraft and also transfer technology for India to develop its next indigenous fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which has a stealth design. The Gripen is also, fundamentally, a newer design than the F-16, having entered service for the first time in the late nineties as opposed to the F-16, which was developed in the seventies.
Ironically, both the F-16 and the Gripen had been rejected by the Air Force when it shortlisted the more capable French Dassault Rafale fighter as part of its Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft tender. That tender, however, fell through, and India ultimately had to acquire just 36 Rafale fighters in an off-the-shelf purchase from France in a deal worth approximately 58,000 crores though its initial requirement was for at least 126 jets. The F-16 and the Gripen are now back in contention because the government has decided to operate different categories of fighter aircraft - the Sukhoi-30 (a heavy fighter), the Rafale (a medium weight fighter), the F-16 or Gripen (a light to medium weight fighter) and the indigenous Tejas (a light weight fighter).