DefExpo 2018: US aerospace giants target IAF’s multi-role combat aircraft deal

Def Expo 2018 is an international land, naval and internal homeland security systems exhibition. (PTI) CHENNAI: US aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing are vying for a share in the Indian defence market by planning to set up plants in the country to manufacture multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) F-16 and F/A Hornet jets, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy as prospective buyers.

A report by the South Asia Centre of Atlantic Council, an American think tank, states that besides helping the US economy recover by ensuring there are no job losses there, India will stand to gain by helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi realise ‘Make in India’ dream. On the other hand, the US will stand to gain by helping Donald Trump’s vision of ‘Make America Great Again’.

However, there has been no mention of where the plants will be set up in India and it all depends on the sale of aircraft to the country.

Interestingly, this comes when India is seeking to buy 110 fighter jets for the IAF. Besides the two aviation giants, Saab, which has a tie-up with Adani group, and Dassault Aviation are among the manufacturers who are expected to compete. DefExpo 2018, which will begin in Chennai on April 11, will see the participation of all the four firms.

Lockheed Martin has already tied up with Tata Advanced Systems for manufacturing F-16s. Interestingly, since 1999, the US Air Force, which is transitioning its multi-role fighter force to F-35, has not bought an F-16. “Without further international orders, the F-16 production line, currently in Greenville, South Carolina, would be shut down,” says a report by Bharat Gopalaswamy, director of South Asia Center, Atlantic Council.

Once Lockheed Martin plans to move its entire F-16 production to India, the Forth Wentworth facility of the aircraft major will be used to manufacture F-35, the fifth generation fighter aircraft. Similarly, 16,000 people involved in manufacturing F/A18 Super Hornet at St Louis will benefit from foreign sales of the Boeing-manufactured aircraft. This has resulted in considerable work share component in the proposals of both aircraft majors.

“An Indian partnership presents a way to sustain F-16 production with all the economic and strategic benefits,” the report said.

The report said India is operating with 30 squadrons, which is way below its minimum of 39.5 authorised air squadrons and is planning to have 42 squadrons by 2032 while retiring its ageing MiG-21 and MiG-27 fleet.

India has been looking for new MRCA for the last decade-and-a-half and its attempt to indigenously service this requirement through Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s Tejas has been met with mixed responses from both the IAF and Navy. Lockheed Martin has positioned the newest Block 70 variant of F-16, a single-engine aircraft, for the IAF, while Boeing has offered F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III, a twin-engine aircraft, for the Indian Navy.

Interestingly, Defence Ministry had earlier sought expressions of interest from single-engine manufacturers, which effectively restricted the contest to Lockheed’s F-16 and Saab’s Gripen fighter jets. But in February, the government asked the IAF […]

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