US aviation manufacturer Lockheed Martin has offered to build ‘exclusive’ F-16 fighters for the Indian Air Force, much superior to any existing fighters in service world over.
“If India’s requirements are beyond any existing fighters, we are prepared to make upgraded F-16s to India’s specifications with complete transfer of technology,” Mike Kelly, senior executive of Lockheed Martin said in comments that assume importance after US administration’s decision to clear sales of high-technology fighters to India and Pakistan.
“We have in the past taken up building of such exclusive fighters for UAE and are prepared to manufacture F-16s to India’s special requirements,” he said.
The F-16 deal, like the weapons-locating radars and new contract for the US navy cover for Indian naval submarines in distress, is going to be concluded as a government-to-government deal under the FMS system, which would enable delivery of fighters on fast track basis.
The deal, estimated to cost $6-7m, projects supply of 18 aircraft in fly away conditions and the rest 108 assembled in India under technology transfer.
Analysts said that administration’s announcement yesterday meant that along with the sales of the fighters, Washington may allow the sale of entire array of weapons platform mounted on it, including beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and 100 km stand-off ground target engaging missiles.
Lockheed Martin is currently manufacturing F-16s in two versions. While Block 50-52 was being supplied to US and European air forces, the block 60 was developed exclusively for United Arab Emirates.
“We are ready to develop new block 70 for the IAF”, the Lockheed Martin official said. Besides Lockheed, the US announcement has also cleared the ground for the other American aviation giant Boeing to bid for India’s plans to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft.
The other big competitors are the Dassault, the makers of French Mirage fighters, Swedish Grippen and Russians.
Pakistan Air Force currently flies 40 F-16s of block 15 version, which most of the other air forces have almost phased out. Islamabad is seeking to buy 24 more Fighting Falcons of block 50-52 version.
The F-16s carry a broad range of weapons of American, European and Israeli make and, under the sales option, it would be up to New Delhi to go in for any choice. The Falcons in their air-to-air combat role carry American-made Mamram AIM-120 beyond visual range missiles as well as French Mica BVRS.
In the short range combat role, the US fighters carry the latest generation of heat-seeking missiles AMI-9X, the latest version of the famous Sidewinder missiles carried by the Pakistani F-16s. Other versions of the aircraft carry IRS-T, the European equivalent of the Sidewinder and the Israeli-made Python missiles.
In the air-to-ground role, the F-16s field precision guided weapons like laser guided bombs, GPS guided bombs and standoff missiles capable of destroying targets almost 100 km away.
Kelly said that the total US package would include provisions for product support and training of personnel and under the programme being worked out, 24 Indian pilots would be trained in the US on F-16s and 50-60 personnel for maintenance purpose.
On the sale of P3C Orion long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to the navy, the Lockheed officials said that negotiations were continuing and the deal could be signed by the year-end.
Under the deal, which is also under FMS, the US defence department would supply 10 aircraft, eight for flying use and two as spare. He said his company would be involved in the upgradation of the spy planes.
The official also expressed optimism on the sale of 6-7 C-130 Hercules transport aircraft for the air force. He said these aircraft would be configured for special missions with a contract likely to be concluded by ’07.
Kelly said Lockheed’s sister company Sikorsky had been shortlisted for bidding for navy’s requirement of anti-submarine warfare helicopters as replacement for the ageing British Seaking helicopters.
He said the helicopter MH-60 have recently won the contract for Presidential helicopter in the United States.