BIG INTERVIEW: Indian Jet Contest All Set, F-16 Fights ‘Sunset’ Status

It’s fighter contracting season in India! Again.

In these times, that sentence would normally qualify to be followed by a slow, long exhalation of breath. A sense of foreboding that now imbues virtually every ambitious armament contracting effort that India embarks on. But there’s work at hand, so let’s get right to it.

The ‘kick-off’ to India’s next big effort to build and acquire fighter aircraft — the high profile single engine fighter (SEF) contest — is expected any day now in the form of a Request for Information (RFI) to America’s Lockheed Martin and Sweden’s Saab. With it, the next big international battle for an elusive Indian fighter airplane contract begins. It will aim to build 100 winning fighter planes at a brand new Indian production facility co-owned by a foreign contractor and their Indian partner — in this case, either Tata or Adani.

The imminent face-off between the F-16 Block 70 and Gripen E has already seen a techno-industrial collision here on Livefist. And while the legendarily doomed erstwhile M-MRCA contest has ensured that Indian fighter contracting will justifiably have a reputation that precedes itself for decades to come, the auspices of Prime Minister Modi’s Make In India paradigm and the MoD’s ambitiously difficult Strategic Partnership model ensures that the contest in front of us could be an even more ferocious, complicated and bedeviling one than before.

The M-MRCA contest, which intended to bring in 126 fighters for the Indian Air Force with over a hundred of them built in India, simply crashed and burned — the resultant deal for just 36 Rafales a limitless reminder of a process that flew, Icarus-like, too close to the sun. Boeing India chief Pratyush Kumar famously called it a “beauty contest on specs”. But that was then. And this is now. And even at a time when the Indian Air Force chief has brandished his spreadsheet to calm his service’s marked predilection for ‘qualitative requirements’ (which largely lead to contracting processes and few actual contracts), the single engine fighter contest is seen as achievable and necessary, both from an industrial as well as capability standpoint.

The weeks ahead promise to afford us sumptuous opportunity to dissect the difficulties of such an elaborate campaign to locally build foreign fighters. For the moment, therefore, as the single engine contest gets all set to begin, we decided to put questions to the competitors, starting with the giant in the proceedings. What you’re about to watch, therefore, is LockheedMartin’s most comprehensive interview in India to date, where the company’s two top executives leading the international F-16 for India campaign speak at length to Livefist’s Shiv Aroor, taking questions that included our own as well as questions we invited from our readers and followers on social media.

Questions include perceptions of the F-16 as a sunset platform at the end of its work life, how much Indian kit would really go into an Indian F-16, whether Indian industry would seriously benefit, whether LockheedMartin’s outlook for the platform is excessively rosy, the inescapable concern over precisely what will really be shared in an all-Indian production line, the tricky issue of how Pakistan would plug into an India-only F-16 ecosystem and whether the F-16 is an imperative path to the F-35 in the future.

6 thoughts on “BIG INTERVIEW: Indian Jet Contest All Set, F-16 Fights ‘Sunset’ Status”

  1. What benefit will another single engine fighter give us, beyond LCA (or LCA 1A)?

    I understand twin engine will double up as land based, as well as carrier platform.

  2. This is totally waste if India go for f16IN or Gripen NG then any government simply cheated his mother land and single drop of effort to earn by people to pay the Tax both this Plane have no future in coming year and they totally obsolete because every country in world try or all ready implemented the 5th Generation Fighter jet & working on 6th Generation Fighter Jet and most important most working on New sensor and counter measure for SAM system and if we go for Obsolete technology and Fighter get it means we have no future for upcoming war please share to government go for F35 lightiningII that’s the real money or go for Rafale Fighter jet Under true transfer of Technology which worth for Tex payer money jai hind Jai bharat maa

    1. F-16 is not a absolute technology. Its a legend like Mig-21. F-16 or Gripen NG will be even more useful than IAF LCA and Pakistan JF-17. Those can easily beat Pakistan JF-17. F-16 or Gripen NG is going to be used till 2050s by many countries. 5th Gen fighters are so much costly to purchase and operate that a lot country cannot afford it. A lot countries is going to use those beside their 5th Gen Fighter to manage their cost.

      If India purchase F-16 or Gripen NG that will be a wise decision. F-16 or Gripen NG can address threat from Pakistan, Sri Lanka , Bangladesh and Myanmar. Though Sri Lanka , Bangladesh and Myanmar are not our enemy but still we need to keep some minimum level of weight around them. Latest F-16 or Gripen NG is far better than any fighter Pakistan, Sri Lanka , Bangladesh and Myanmar will have in future. It will leave our Su-30, Rafaels to be deploy against China only.

      Latest F-16 or Gripen NG is far better than Pakistan 250 planned JF-17, which will in service in Pakistan till 2050s.

      India cannot produce 200 LCA in quick pace. the 123 LCAs can be produce in next 10 yrs only. With F-16 or Gripen NG , if we able to get latest western technology and knowledge of produce fighter aircraft that will be game changer.

  3. Since my childhood I have seen Paki F86 sabres flying over me and dropping bombs around and Indian Vampires trying to catch up while Ack Ack guns lit up the sky and those shells were falling in my house courtyard
    then came a day a few years later when things got closer and these Sabres dropped a 1000 pounder quite close to me (100 feet) as if all this was not enough also witnessed a Sabre chasing a SU 7 and shooting it down and I scurrying a few kilometers away to the site where the wreckage of SU was lying and retrieved a portion bearded jaw ( presumably a brave Khalsa pilot )
    Today i am old and frail and yet have been following progress of Tejas for almost a decade and have found no satisfactory answer or action being taken — one thing i fail to understand why we make a LIGHT combat aircraft/helicopter/Tank when we require bigger or heavier version.and when we make a heavier/bigger thing in this particular case the Arjun Tank it is on the verge of being rejection on and off.
    Not divulging fromt discussion of Tejas combat aircraft which we know is under powered/does not have adequate range and speed/or a respectable load of armaments how long are we going to continue — Now that we have gained adequate experience in aircraft construction — WHY dont we NOW made amends and make what we want a 46 to 49 feet by 30 to32 feet having 128 to 144 kn engine with the latest radars and missile (which we have already got/can buy)
    My SOLUTION and SUBMISSION is we must go for F 16 as we will get its 128 to 144 kn engine and other attachment (radars and missiles etc.) and as a FACE SAVING gimmick design a delta wing aircraft (the design of which is also available as F 16 XL ) it would be a huge improvement on Tejas
    i do not imply Tejas is not good but it has to be IMPROVED and this is the way out the Great indian JUGAAD

  4. Tejas could be useful aircraft. Consider the Kargil war, when we required a aircraft which can accurately hit small target at high mountain. Range was irrelevant than . For these we do not required big aircraft. Tejas have enough range to cover Pakistan cities like Lahore , Rawalpindi, Islamabad is within Tejas Range.

    It can still counter Pakistan fighter like JF-17. Which goes to be in hand of Bangladesh and Myanmar also in future.

    Tejas’s problem is too late induction. It should be inducted in mid 1990s. I should be in use in Kagil war. But luck of future vision and good will failed it.

    Pakistan did a smart thing. They brought what ever they can brought for JF-17 and put them together. If we follow the same approach in 1983 , when we were designing the LCA than we should not fall in our own trap.

    USA was not friend at the time Tejas was in design board , still we went with USA build GE-404 engine rather than Russian RD-33. If we had use RD-33 than after USA sanction in 1998 , our aircraft still can fly.

    Our designer still looking for USA build GE-414 for AMCA.

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