Well done to Defense News for this huge scoop: Lockheed Martin may offer the Indian Air Force a clone of the Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufa.
This is the latest twist in the most important international arms deal of the year. India is soliciting bids for a contract to buy 126 multi-role fighters with extensive industrial participation on Indian soil. The winner not only gets a multi-billion dollar contract, but also a new best friend in the heart of Asia.
Selling the F-16I to India would seem to solve a lot of problems for the US side, the most important being the dilemma posed by exporting sensitive US military technology to a country that has a standing military cooperation agreement with Iran. The F-16I, which features missiles and an air combat system designed in Israel, has the advantage of being already cleared for export. The $45-$50 million F-16I also has a more competitive price tag when compared to a bargain-bin Russian SU-35.
The loser of such a deal on the US side would clearly be Boeing, which is seeking to offer the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Pound-for-pound, the Super Hornet is probably the more advanced aircraft. But how does Boeing obtain an export license for the highly-sensitive active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, not to mention the Super Hornet’s other sensitive pieces and parts?
On the other hand, a big shortcoming of the F-16I is the lack of an AESA radar, which comes standard with the F/A-18E/F Block II and is a new option offered by the Russians and the French (Dassault Rafale). While the F-16I’s Northrop Grumman APG-68(V)9 could be the most advanced mechanically-scanned radar on the market, it is still a notch below the capability of the AESA equipped on the F-16 Block 60 sold to the United Arab Emirates.
I don’t know if it’s possible, but Lockheed Martin may need to consider shifting the Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA on the F-16 Block 60 to the F-16I to make a truly competitive offer. That also avoids some of the trouble with export license, since the APG-80 is so far the only AESA radar exported to any country in any known fighter sale to date.