US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has offered to help India in its multi-billion dollar programme to develop a next generation advanced multi-role combat aircraft and boost capability of the Tejas fighter jet.
The offer by the US aerospace firm comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to India on February 24-25 during which both strategic partners are expected to further expand defence and military cooperation.
Vivek Lall, vice president of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin, said the company is “very open” to assisting India in further development of the Tejas combat jet as well as the ambitious next generation aircraft.
“We are very open to any requirement from the government of India or the Indian Air Force for any help for the Tejas as well as the AMCA (advanced multi-role combat aircraft) project,” Lall told PTI in an interview without divulging specifics.
The indigenously developed Tejas has been a showpiece project of India being implemented by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). Both HAL and ADA are now focusing on an upgraded version of Tejas to make it a world class plane.
India is also working on an ambitious $5 billion project to develop a fifth-generation medium weight deep penetration fighter jet to significantly bolster its air power capability.
Lall showcased Lockheed Martin’s F-21 jet as an attractive option for IAF’s hunt to procure a batch of 118 fighter planes, saying choosing the American jet will link India to a $165 billion worth global aerospace eco-system.
“Once you get a platform like the F21, that is just start of a very long-term relationship for future configurations that India desires, future platforms that India wants to develop,” he said.
Eyeing the IAF’s $18 billion deal, Lockheed Martin has exclusively offered its newly rolled out F-21 fighter to India and even promised to set up a manufacturing facility in India if the company gets the contract.
The company said it will not sell the jet to any other country if it wins the contract for the 114 jets. Hard-selling F-21 as the best platform for the IAF, he said the aircraft, a derivative of the F-16, will have 40 per cent more weapons package then its competitors.
Asked about weapons package, he said the aircraft had 138 configurations.
The company may look at integrating weapons as per India’s requirement subject to approval of the US government, he added.
Besides having a traditional boom-delivered refuelling facility, the F-21 also has a extendable hose-and-drogue refuelling probe.
“This is only fighter in the world which has both the capabilities,” Lall said, adding that the jet has an unique India-specific electronic warfare suit.
“F 21 is being exclusively offered to India. It is a unique platform for India. It has several India-unique configurations,” he said.
In April last year, the IAF issued an RFI (request for information) or initial tender to acquire 114 jets at a cost of around $18 billion, which is billed as one of the world’s biggest military procurements in recent years.
The top contenders for the deal include Lockheed’s F-21, Boeing’s F/A-18, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG 35 and Saab’s Gripen.
Lall said the F-21 provides all the capabilities at 30-40 per cent less cost than a twin engine aircraft.
The Lockheed executive said the F-21 has an advanced APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar which significantly enhances the jet’s ability to track and attack more targets with higher precision.
Defence and security ties between India and the US have been on an upswing in the last six years. Bilateral defence trade touched $18 billion mark in 2019, reflecting growing defence cooperation between the two sides.
There are indications that the two sides may announce further deepening of defence ties during Trump’s visit later this month.
Both sides have also been pushing for joint venture and collaboration between private sectors of the two countries in defence manufacturing.
In June 2016, the US designated India a “Major Defence Partner”, intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.