Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Indian F-16 line will build at least three Block 70 fighters every month, claims Lockheed Martin

Fort Worth line moving to Greenville for now. But early decision would let India build F-16s for future international customers

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
August 22, 2017

Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest defence vendor, which is pitching strongly to sell the Indian Air Force (IAF) its new F-16 Block 70 fighter, told Business Standard on Tuesday that, if India chose its fighter, an Indian production line would churn out three-to-four F-16s every month.

“We want to create the capacity to build three or more aircraft per month; we could do four. It depends upon how many aircraft India needs and when it will buy those”, said Randy Howard, who markets the F-16 globally for Lockheed Martin.

For the IAF, which is making do with just 32-33 fighter squadrons instead of the 42 squadrons it wants to defend two borders with China and Pakistan, inducting 36-48 fighters per year would correct the shortfall quickly.

The Tejas production line in Bengaluru will build just eight fighters this year. It will take another two years to scale up to 16 Tejas annually.

Last year, even before the IAF solicited interest from multiple global aerospace vendors in building single-engine medium fighter aircraft in India, with transfer of technology to an Indian partner, Lockheed Martin announced a partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) to manufacture the F-16 in India by shifting its production line from Fort Worth, Texas.

That mammoth, one-mile-long manufacturing line was once regarded as an industrial marvel on which 13,500 workers churned out one new F-16 every day. But after the US Air Force bought its last F-16 in 1999, production tapered off to just 12 fighters per year. Next month, after having built 4,588 F-16 fighters, the Fort Worth line will transition to building the fifth-generation F-35 Lightening II fighter that America and its allies have ordered in the thousands.

But with India undecided about buying the F-16, and uncertainty over the proposed India line, Lockheed Martin is re-establishing F-16 production in Greenville, South Caroline. Countries like Bahrain and Indonesia are evaluating the acquisition of 19 F-16s and Lockheed Martin needs to keep the line alive.

On Tuesday, Howard indicated to Business Standard that, if India decided quickly to buy the F-16 Block 70, the Indian line could begin building fighters not just for the IAF, but also for other global F-16 orders.

Lockheed Martin has aggressively marketed the F-16 in India against its key rival, Saab’s new Gripen E fighter. The Swedish company is believed to be formalizing a partnership with the Adani Group.

There is another dark horse contender amongst Indian companies: Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). With HAL no longer establishing a production line for licence producing Rafale fighters in India, the public sector aerospace giant has pitched for building whichever single-engine medium fighter the IAF chooses.

The defence ministry has reserved the production of the single-engine fighter for the private sector under the “strategic partner” policy, which aims to build private defence industry. Even so, it is not inconceivable that the government rules in favour of HAL, given the lack of experience in the private sector.

The “Make in India” programme demands indigenization of over 50 per cent of the production of defence equipment. Lockheed Martin executives claim they are ready to meet that target, having developed over 60 Indian suppliers in the Bengaluru-Hyderabad-Chennai area that will feed into F-16 manufacture.

Both Saab and Lockheed Martin claim they are offering India the better aircraft. Saab points to the brand new technology on its Gripen E fighter, which is still being flight tested, while Lockheed Martin claims it is offering the world’s most battle-tested combat aircraft.


With both aircraft likely to meet the IAF’s performance requirements, the winning bid could be the one that offers the lowest cost and the best industrial proposal.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is primary role envisaged for this single engine fighter ? Will it be a strike like MiG-27 or a point defence like MiG-21?
Looks like F-16 will be the fastest way to fill in the gap .

Mahendra Singh said...

If HAL can offer to build foreign single engine fighter, why can't it offer to build more Tejas? Its offer could encourage IAF to order more Tejas beyond 83.

Anonymous said...

At what cost will Lockheed be able to build 3 aircraft a month?

How much cost will it require for setting those lines?

What unit cost will the F-16s be billed at?

From the date of signing, when will the first plane be built?

'Will Lockheed continue to invest in R&D to keep these builds relevant for next 40 years? If not, what will be the cost to us be to pay for R&D for upgrades?

Can we perform customization based on our operational experience? How much will that cost if done in house vs an American company that is used to charging and making huge profits at American costs.

What is the LCC cost for each item?

Is F-16 relevant for future use-cases?

If you added all the above and compared it with LCA what would it cost us to add another line that will allow us to produce 36 units s year?

Are we just focussing on Mig-21 replacement (mitigate loss) vs adapt for future battlefield? Will that win battle for us?

If we are to make same for LCA, what is the cost to us for comparison?

Is purchasing 70-110 million dollar 3rd gen unit a good idea when we could look at adding F-35A/B for IAF and IN that bring capabilities that we do not posses at the moment.

Capt. Sanat Bhate said...

Whatever the Government does, it is importantant that the decision is taken FAST. We Indians are capable of discussing matters to the end of the world without achieving the results in time bound manner. Had this been the case, our defence preparedness would not have had such gaping holes today.

F-16 has two distinct advantages over Saab's Gripen.
First that it is a proven design which has been upgraded so much that there is no comparisen between the early F-16s and the Block 70 varient. It has a proven high quality AESA radar which puts it miles ahead of Gripen.
Secondly, in 1962, when China attacked, no country came to our help except USA. Do not forget this. Americans are not in love with us..... they acted in their own interest then and they will help us against China now in their own interest. Sweden cannot and will not come to our aid against China. ....AND CHINA IS (HAS ALWAYS BEEN) THE CLEAR AND EVER PRESENT DANGER.
If either of the products closely fit our bill, it will be wiser to opt for US product.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to go in for lower cost single engine fighters and heavy weight Su-30 MKI.
The SU-30 need to be able to carry upto 3 long range stand off weapons : air to air and air to,ground.
The single engine fighters can be point defence and strike.
This Fighter needs to complement LCA in capabilities, if at all bought .

US (f-16/f-15) and Russia (Su-27/MiG-29) do with two major types of fighter aircraft .
IAF is anyway not interested in dedicated bomber force .

There is no point in sending a 100 MUSD fighter with a trained pilot deep inside the enemy territory.
36 Rafales should do as specialist aircraft .

Anonymous said...

F-16 is the best bet. why else will several countries buy them and close to 5000 being built till date!!
they are cheap, technology can be gleaned and picked up.
besides, it has a much better
- engine thrust
- combat proven capability
- AESA, IRST, SABR
- weapons package
- conformal tanks
- clear cockpit view
above all we can get good deals for F-35 if we act smart thereby burying the nonsensical FGFA which will never take off!!
Developing technology and developing manufacturing capability are 2 different things. right now we need the latter more than anything else to arrest the decline. these planes are meant to replace all 1 engine planes in IAF moving forward. and yes US does have much higher leverage than sweden although latter may give us the technology.

Venturi said...

Foolish decision,pick more Rafales for the future,not something from the past.Worst case scenario,increase Tejas order,both will start production at around the same time.F-16 will kill Tejas for sure,despite naysayers telling us otherwise.

Unknown said...

Indian government should think a broader picture we are again in situation buying more advanced aircraft after 3-4 decades.why US want to switch a technology which they dont find himself suite for ??