American defense major, Lockheed Martin has announced to manufacture wings of F-16 aircraft with Tata Advanced Systems Limited in India. This would be a major boost to Prime Minister’s Make in India program. “All F-16 wings globally are to be built in the Hyderabad facility”, said Vivek Lall, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. The company is also one of seven contenders for 20 billion defense deal of 114 fighter aircrafts. However, Lall denied that this is for winning the contact to supply fighter aircrafts. “Building F-16 wings in India is a natural next step that builds on our successful partnerships with Tata on the C-130J [Super Hercules air lifter] and S-92 [helicopter]. This is a strategic business decision that reflects the value of our partnerships with India and the confidence we have in Tata to perform advanced defense manufacturing work and deliver world-class products,” said Lall.
Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor in the world. Company’s total revenue for 2017 was 43.5 billion with 92 percent coming from defense. This is almost double of BAR system, second largest defense contractor in the world. F-16s of Lockheed Martin are one of the best fifth generation aircraft in the world. Its competitors are Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet (United States), Gripen-E (Sweden), MiG-35 (Russia), Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale and Sukhoi-35 (Russia). “If India buys the F-16 then it becomes the centre of manufacturing for the global market. Choosing Lockheed’s warplane would integrate India into a global F-16 supply chain worth $165 billion”, said Lall. F-16 is the most popular fifth generation combat aircraft. 4,604 F-16s air-crafts has been procured by 28 countries around the world. 3,000 operational F-16s are operational in 25 air forces including the mighty US Air force.
Last year, Lockheed Martin and TASL announced their intent to join hands to produce the F-16 Block 70 in India if the aircraft is selected by the Indian Air Force. The F-16 Block 70 features advanced avionics, proven Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a modernized cockpit, advanced weapons, conformal fuel tanks, an automatic ground collision avoidance system, an advanced engine and an industry-leading extended structural service life of 12,000 hours.
The timing for announcement of manufacturing is interesting because US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman in 2+2 format dialogues which entail a meeting between the foreign and defense heads of both the nations. US decided to go ahead with dialogue despite the fact India did not succumbed to its pressure to cancel S-400 missile deal with Russia. US understood that the main threat to India and US is the expanding influence of China and both countries should collaborate to decide the strategy against it. Randall G. Schriver, US assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs has said that “China and how to respond to it will be front and centre” of the 2+2 dialogue.
A few months back, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had said that India should be prepared for two front wars. The gradual mingling of China and Pakistan could lead to breakout of wars on two fronts with our northern and western neighbor. The development of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Chinese loans to debt ridden country suggest that Pakistan is on its way to become a colony of China. So, for all practical reasons the interests of Pakistan will be interests of China in the upcoming years. The current purchase of 114 fighter jets will prepare the country for a two front war.