Lockheed Martin is confident of securing new sales for the F-16, and claims that the type’s economies of scale and broad user base give the Block 70 variant an edge in New Delhi’s requirement for a single-engined fighter.
The US firm had a large presence at this year’s Aero India show, which included an F-16 cockpit demonstrator.
Abhay Paranjape, executive director of international business development at Lockheed, says that there has been significant engagement between the US and Indian governments on the requirement, which calls for an unspecified number of single-engined fighters to replace legacy types such as the Mikoyan MiG-21 and MiG-27.
No formal request for information was issued, but the Indian government invited interested parties to express interest.
Nonetheless, Paranjape says there is a sense of “urgency” in the Indian defence establishment to recapitalize the Indian air force’s aging fleet.
These aircraft were supposed to have been replaced by the winner of the cancelled medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition for 126 fighters.
MMRCA pitted the F-16 against the Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, RAC MiG-35, and Eurofighter Typhoon. The Rafale eventually won, but the acquisition was ultimately cancelled. New Delhi went on to order 36 Rafales under a separate deal.
Saab, which has a significant presence in India’s defence market, also used the Aero India show to push its Gripen for the single engined fighter requirement.
The fighters will be judged as much on capability as on the industrial participation they offer India, with most of the aircraft ordered to be made in India by a local partner.
One possible obstacle for a Lockheed victory is that its F-16 production backlog only goes until September, when an Iraqi Air Force order will be filled.
Randy Howard, of F-16 business development, is confident that this will not be a challenge. He says the F-16 is well placed to win various international deals for new fighters from prospects in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and forecasts up to 100 new build aircraft.
“We are in discussions with a number of countries,” he says.
He adds that there are over 3,000 F-16s in service globally with 25 countries. Of these legacy aircraft, he estimates that 700-800 will receive the F-16V upgrade, which takes older jets to the equivalent of the F-16 Block 70. This will contribute to economies of scale for the Block 70, which Howard claims will reduce costs for the Indian government should it go with the F-16.
The Block 70 aircraft includes Northrop Grumman’s APG-83 active electronically scanned array radar, new avionics, and a greatly improved cockpit that can process data produced by advanced sensors. The aircraft proposed for India will also include conformal fuel tanks.