American military aviation major Lockheed Martin has offered India its state-of-the-art, fifth generation, stealth-capable fighter aircraft, the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter. The company, which is in the running for India's offer to buy 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), is trying to further sweeten the deal, having offered the F-16 for the contract.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35 of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme, funded by the US, the UK, and others. It is designed and built by a consortium led by Lockheed Martin with BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman. The technology demonstrator flew in 2000; and a production prototype flew on 15 December 2006.
Last week, top executives from Lockheed Martin met officials from India's Ministry of Defence and told them that the US government had agreed to make the F-35 Lightening-II available for the IAF's 5th generation fighter contract. Lockheed Martin's Vice President for Business Development Rob Weiss said after the meeting that the F-35 would be in the reckoning much beyond the induction of the 126 MRCA planes, as the country's security experts have been struggling to find partners to develop futuristic 5th generation fighters.
New Delhi has talking to Moscow for joint development and joint investment in next generation fighters, but the Russian concepts of these fighters are only on the drawing board at present. Americans started development of the F-35 in early 2000, with an initial cost outlay of US $50 billion. The new generation fighters will be inducted into the US Air Force by the end of 2009 or in early 2010.
"In the next few years a number of countries will join the F-35 programme and the IAF is welcome," Weiss said. The F-35 fighter uses stealth to pick and choose engagements while reaming undetected by enemy defence systems. It has embedded antennae, aligned edges, internal weapons, as well as special coatings and material.
The designers say that the F-35 fighter will have the most powerful sensor suite ever, with a seamless real world and real-time 360-degree display of the battle space to turn the pilots into 'tacticians rather than technicians'. If new countries joined the F-35 programme, the US could be open to delivery of new generation fighters within the next decade.
They said if the IAF chose the Lockheed Martin world's best selling fighter F-16 fighting flacons, it could "position India to be ready to receive advanced technologies incorporated in the F-35's." Lockheed Martin officials said lot of new technologies being tested on F-35 would be leveraged in the new generation F-16 Block 50 fighters.
On India's decision to raise the offset limit in purchase of the 126 new fighters to 50 per cent, Weiss said his company was confident of meeting this target. "We have met offset requirements totalling US $40 billion in 37 countries," he said. He also said Lockheed was ready to support IAF's lifecycle needs and for technology transfer. "Fighting falcons are already being produced in five countries," he emphasised.
On the proposed sale of six C130J transport aircraft to India for use by special forces, the Lockheed Martin has announced that a letter of agreement was expected to be signed by the end of this year. Deliveries of the aircraft would start 30 months after the contract was signed; first deliveries would be by 2011. The company's long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft - P3C Orion - has been dropped from the Indian Navy's request for proposals.
In the meanwhile, the F-35C variant of Lockheed Martin's Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme has passed its air system critical design review (CDR). A key milestone following a series of subsystem reviews, it gives the development team behind F-35C - a conventional take-off and landing aircraft for carrier-borne operations - the green light to proceed toward production of three test and evaluation units, said a company spokesman
- Crew: 1
- Length: 50 ft 6 in (15.37 m)
- Wingspan: 35 ft 0 in (10.65 m)
- Height: 17 ft 4 in (5.28 m)
- Wing area: 459.6 ftÂ² (42.7 mÂ²)
- Empty weight: 26,000 lb (12,000 kg)
- Loaded weight: 44,400 lb (20,100 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 60,000 lb (27,200 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburning turbofan
- Dry thrust: 28,000 lbf (128 kN)
- Thrust with afterburner: 43,000 lbf (191 kN)
- Maximum speed: >Mach 1.8 (1,200 mph, 1,931 km/h)
- Range: 1,200 nautical miles (1,400 miles, 2,200 km) on internal fuel
- Combat radius: 600 nautical miles (690 miles, 1,110 km)
- Rate of climb: Not publicly available
- Wing loading: 91.4 lb/ftÂ² (446 kg/mÂ²)
- Thrust/weight: (with full fuel) 0.968; (with 50 per cent fuel) 1.22
- 1 GAU-12/U 25 mm cannon mounted internally with 180 rounds in the F-35A, and fitted as an external pod with 220 rounds in the F-35B and F-35C.
- Up to four AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder or AIM-132 ASRAAM internally, or two air-to-air and two air-to-ground weapons (up to two 2,000 lb weapons in A and C; two 1000 lb weapons in B) in the bomb bays. These could be AMRAAM, the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) up to 2,000 lb (910 kg), the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), Small Diameter Bombs (SDB) - a maximum of four in each bay, the Brimstone anti-armour missiles, Cluster Munitions (WCMD) and High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM). The MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile is currently being adapted to fit internally in the missile spots and may be integrated into the F-35.
- Many more missiles, bombs and fuel tanks can be attached to the four wing pylons and two wingtip positions, but at the expense of being more detectable by radar. The two wingtip pylons can only carry short-range air-to-air missiles (AIM-9s), while the Storm Shadow and Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM) cruise missiles can be carried in addition to the stores already integrated. An air-to-air load of 12 AIM-120s and two AIM-9s is conceivable using internal and external weapons stations, as well as a configuration of six two thousand pound bombs, two AIM-120s and two AIM-9s.