Lockheed Martin sees a potential export market of more than $20 billion for its F-16 fighter aircraft from an assembly line in India it has offered to set up in order to win a large Indian military order, a top executive said.
The U.S. defence firm is competing with Boeing’s F/A-18, Saab’s Gripen, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and a Russian aircraft to supply the Indian air force with 114 combat planes in a deal estimated to be worth more than $15 billion.
Vivek Lall, the vice-president of strategy and business development at Lockheed, said the firm would make India the sole global production centre for the F-16 that would meet the requirements for the Indian military but also overseas markets.
“We see current demand outside of India of more than 200 aircraft. The value of those initial acquisition programmes would likely exceed $20bn,” Lall said.
Bahrain and Slovakia had picked the F-16 Block 70 that had been offered to India, he said. “We are in discussions with Bulgaria, several other countries, 10 countries. There is a kind of a renaissance of the F-16.”
Lockheed Martin has offered to shift its F-16 production line from the United States to India, potentially the biggest boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make-in-India project to create a defence industrial base and generate jobs for the thousands of youth entering the workforce each month.
Lall said there would still be work done out of the United States even if production of the F-16 moves to India and that Make in India and Trump’s Make America Great Again were not at cross purposes.
“I think they complementary. The U.S. has a certain amount engineering and strength that will continue as long as the product is there, that will continue even when production moves.”
India’s military has said it wants 42 squadrons of jets, around 750 aircraft, to defend against a two pronged attack from China and Pakistan. But with old Russian jets like the MiG-21, first used in the 1960s, retiring soon, it could end up with only 22 squadrons by 2032, officials have warned.