F-16 fighter planes: Tata, Lockheed Martin ink deal days before Modi-Trump summit

F-16s - the world’s most widely used fighter planes could now come with a Made in India seal, with production expertise by America’s Lockheed Martin which was on the verge of shutting down its Texas assembly line because of lack of orders. This announcement comes just ahead of a ModiTrump summit meeting next Monday. Experts say the final buy by the Indian government will likely be more about politics but what the F-16 announcement shows is that America has gotten into the game and saying, alright, we're here too, so who will you buy from - the Swedes, the French or the U.S.?

India's latest tweaks to the defense procurement policy gives top billing to partnerships that help the Make in India push rather than outright buys. This is the context of the Tata-Lockheed agreement which means this combine will be competing with other Indian and foreign partner combines for the defence tenders. The Tata-Lockheed agreement signals intent to move in a certain direction but India's Ministry of Defense (MoD) has not yet issued global competitive bids for single-engine fighter aircraft.

This Indo-US pact coincides with the Jack Ma blitz in the US - where the Chinese billionaire is following through on a promise he made to U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year to create one million jobs in the U.S. Visiting heads of state and businesses have by now understood only too well that dealing with Donald Trump is less complicated if you answer to the "what's in it for me" question first before democracy talk and good intentions.

On the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, Tata Advanced Systems signed a deal with Lockheed Martin to produce F-16 fighter planes in India - just the kind of package deal neatly tied up with a red ribbon that Donald Trump relishes and one that sits well with Modi’s Make in India initiative too.

India has been shopping around for 200 new fighter planes because the existing MiG 21s fleet is old and accident prone. Reuters reports that Lockheed's leader of F-16 business development Phil Howard clarified that the deal will not cross wires in Washington where Donald Trump's America First campaign insists on creating jobs at home.

"Lockheed has met and briefed the current U.S. administration on its plan, and Howard said he had a sense of full support from the Trump administration", reports Reuters.

Link: Joint statement by Lockheed Martin and Tata

 F-16 fighter planes: Tata, Lockheed Martin ink deal days before Modi-Trump summit

The Lockheed Martin-Tata deal comes exactly a week before the #ModiTrump summit/ Reuters

“It is true that the F-16’s capabilities are well known to potential adversaries, particularly the Pakistanis, who have flown the aircraft since the 1980s. But this is a tradeoff inherent in getting one of the world’s most proven combat aircraft. More important, the Block-70 version of the F-16 that India would produce features upgrades in avionics and operational capabilities that far outstrip the older Pakistani planes. And India would likely be able to veto future F-16 sales to sensitive states such as Pakistan. Pakistani familiarity with the F-16, then, is not a reason to avoid it”, experts S Paul Kapur and Sumit Ganguly have said long before this deal was inked.

Experts say the “technically sophisticated” F-16s will bring India and US closer - much more than an Indo-Swedish cooperation on the Gripen.

The F-16 Block 70 is the plane the companies will jointly produce in India. “The F-16 Block 70 is ideally suited to meet the Indian Air Force's single-engine fighter needs”, a joint statement said. Lockheed Martin claims that the F-16 Block 70 is the "newest and most technologically advanced F-16 ever offered".

As things stand, America, Russia and Israel are the top three arms suppliers to India.

"F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the U.S., creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the center of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world," a joint statement by the firms said.

India will also have the chance to export the F-16 that is flown by air forces around the world, the joint statement said. Some 3,200 of these planes are being flown by 26 countries and the model that is being offered to India will be Block 70, the most modern of all the F-16s.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2017 19:27:12 IST