Lockheed signs pact with Tata to make F-16 planes in India

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Ahead of prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, Lockheed Martin signed an agreement with Tata Advanced Systems to make F-16 fighter jets in India.

To overcome shortage of fighter jets in the Indian Air Force, the Indian government is seriously considering proposals to produce combat machines under the Make in India initiative.

Lockheed Martin has already submitted proposals to set up its facility in India to produce its popular F-16 fighters, hoping to get orders worth billions. The company is also willing to export made in India F-16s to other countries.

The Lockheed Martin’s agreement with Indian partner Tata comes just ahead of prime minister Modi’s visit to the US where he would hold his first meeting with president Donald Trump.

The US president’s position on promoting American interests and its business has already come in the way of Indian industry. It remains to be seen how the two countries settle down their differences and get down to business.

The Lockheed Martin-Tata deal was announced at the Paris Airshow. The US company officials explained that the partnership will save American jobs and create new opportunities in India. “F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the US, creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the centre of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world,” said a joint statement.

But F-16 is not the only aircraft India is looking at. Sweden’s SAAB, which makes Gripen, has also made similar offer and so has Boeing for the F-18 Super Hornets. Producing a single engine fighter jet is also one of the key areas covered under the recently announced strategic partnership model of defence manufacturing in India. The model aims to open floodgates for private Indian companies to take part in bit ticket defence contracts.

The IAF has been worried about its falling fighter squadron strength. For years, Soviet-era Mig-21s have been the mainstay of IAF’s combat strength. The numbers have come down drastically and even though IAF now flies more than 200 Su-30 MKIs and has ordered 36 French Rafales, it needs more aircraft to deal with threats from China and Pakistan. Lockheed had lost the bid for the supply of F-16s to IAF some years ago. The IAF had preferred to buy the French Rafale instead.

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