Paris: US-based aerospace and defense manufacturing firm Lockheed Martin announced on Monday that it will partner with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) to manufacture and export the F-16 Block 70 aircraft from India.
“Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) signed a landmark agreement affirming the companies’ intent to join hands to produce the F-16 Block 70 in India. The F-16 Block 70 is ideally suited to meet the Indian Air Force's single-engine fighter needs and this unmatched U.S.-Indian industry partnership directly supports India's initiative to develop private aerospace and defense manufacturing capacity in India,” a Lockheed Martin press release read.
The move is a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ push and comes just days before he travels to the United States for a meeting with President Donald Trump. “This unprecedented F-16 production partnership between the world's largest defense contractor and India's premier industrial house provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter. F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the U.S., creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the center of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world,” the release added.
India's air force needs hundreds of aircraft to replace its Soviet-era fleet, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has said foreign suppliers would have to make the planes in India with a local partner to help build a domestic industrial base and cut outright imports.
But Modi's Make-in-India drive runs the risk of conflicting with U.S. President Donald Trump's America First campaign under which he has been pressing for companies to invest in the United States and create jobs instead of setting up factories abroad.
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In announcing their agreement at the Paris Airshow, Lockheed and Tata said moving the production base to India would still retain jobs in the United States.
"F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the U.S., creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the center of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world," a joint statement by the firms said.
N Chandrashekharan, Tata Sons Chairman, said in a statement, “This agreement builds on the already established joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Tata and underscores the relationship and commitment between the two companies.”
The indigenously-produced F-16 planes will help the Indian Air Force upgrade its fleet, which still comprises Soviet-era aircraft. The F-16 Block 70 plane is the newest member of the F-16 series of fighter jets. Currently, a total of 32,000 F-16 are being used by 26 countries across the world.
India and the United States have built a close defence relationship in recent years with Washington emerging as among the top three arms suppliers to India, along with Russia and Israel.
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India will also have the chance to export the F-16 that is flown by air forces around the world, the joint statement said. Some 3,200 of these planes are being flown by 26 countries and the model that is being offered to India will be Block 70, the most modern of all the F-16s.
"This unprecedented F-16 production partnership between the world’s largest defense contractor and India’s premier industrial house provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world’s most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter," the statement said.
Tata is already building airframe components for the C-130 military transport aircraft.
India has not opened formal bidding for the jet order, which is expected to be anything from 100 planes to 250.
(With inputs from Reuters)
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