India has opened its doors to 100 per cent FDI
in a number of sectors including defence. Following this landmark decision by the government, reports are rife that the Indian Air Force could be the first and most important beneficiary from it.
Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-16 fighter jets, might soon be making the flying machines on Indian soil.
According to The Hindu
, Lockheed Martin proposed setting up an assembly line of F-16s in India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US earlier this month. That the IAF immediately needs new fighter jets has been written and discussed extensively. Though India and France agreed on a 36-jet deal with Dassault Rafale, the pricing is yet to be worked out. In late May, France told India that it will not be able to provide any bank guarantee and won’t be able to bring the cost of the jets down from Euro 7.8 billion.
Uncertainty over the Rafale led other major players such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Saab offer their jets to India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
F-16s are one of the foremost front-line fighter jets in the US armed forces and its allies. Most notably, the fighter is the backbone of the Pakistani Air Force.
An F-16 of the Pakistani Air Force.
India has till date relied on Soviet-era or Russian-made fighter jets. So, if India goes ahead with F-16s, it is bound to send a clear signal to China regarding the level of India-US ties.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had earlier made it clear that India is looking at the Transfer of Technology (ToT) route instead of the assembly line route.
He had pointed out that 100 per cent indigenisation is impossible because the LCA Tejas, too, has only 40 per cent parts manufactured in India.
An F-16 being manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s US facility. Aeroflight
Both Lockheed Martin and Boeing – maker of F/A-18s – held discussions in New Delhi in April in the presence of Pentagon’s Director for International Cooperation Keith Webster about the possibility of producing their jets in India.
Concerns regarding F-16 remains because of the fact that it is used by Pakistan and that it will out of production in the US very soon.
But a US deal over sale of F-16 to Pakistan lapsed because of financing issues leading to a bitterness of relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
F-16 Fighting Falcon was introduced in 1978 and has since been in service with at least 4 countries other than US. It is the most commonly used fighter jet in the world but is below the level of IAF’s Sukhoi Su-30 MKI in technology and design.