Lockheed Martin offers to shift F-16 production line to India

US defence giant Lockheed Martin is ready to farm out production of the F-16 fighter planes after the US Air Force approved the single-engine F-35A, the latest in the F-series fighter jets, for eventual replacement of the F-16 and the A-10.

Lockheed Martin is reported to have offered to move its lone production line of the latest version of fighter aircraft F 16-Block 70 to India from Texas to meet Indian and global requirement.

The proposal is "conditional" to IAF choosing the world's largest-sold fighter aircraft for its fleet.

The F-16IN Block 70 Viper is one of the six contenders in the Indian multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) competition to provide the Indian Air Force with 126 multi-role fighters, to be licence-built by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) with technology transfer.

Another US aircraft manufacturer Boeing is also bidding the F-18 Super Hornets for MRCA contract.

Also, with the US Air Force declaring the F-35A (that is, the conventional takeoff model), the latest in the F series, officially ready for combat, the older versions like the F-15s and F-16s would become redundant and Lockheed is now keen to shift production outside the US.

"The offer we have given to the Indian government is unmatched and from our side unprecedented," Randall L Howard, F16 Business Development head at Lockheed Martin, said in New Delhi.

Howard said the company wants to make F 16-Block 70 "for India, from India and export to the world", but parried questions on whether the company would give a commitment not to sell F16s to Pakistan, saying it is to be discussed between Indian and American governments.

First introduced into the US Air Force in August 1978, the F-16 fighter aircraft is also in operation with 25 other air forces across the world, including Pakistan.

The F16 team is pushing the order on basis of low-cost maintenance and future purchase of JSF for India in 2020.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has also said India will choose at least one more aircraft, besides the indigenous Tejas, for the IAF through the 'Make in India' route.

Lockheed Martin, which has sold 4,588 F16s in the world, faces competition from its American rival Boeing (F/A-18E), Dassault Aviation of France (Rafale), Swedish plane Gripen by Saab and the Eurofighter.

All the companies have offered to set up production facility in India.

"But we are offering not only moving the lone production line to India but also meeting the global requirement through the same unit here," Howard said, adding it is a "win-win situation".
Arguing the F 16-Block 70 will be the best fighter aircraft in the Indian region, he said, "It is critical for you to pick up a partner who will deliver on his promise".

Howard said the company is having multiple discussions with the government here besides the industry and "they have not been told to go away", indicating the discussions are on.

Lockheed believes the production in India will also bring down the cost of the aircraft which in turn will increase its global demand, he added.