Make in India: Lockheed Martin looking for local partner to build F-21s

If India opts for the F-21, Lockheed Martin has announced it will transfer the F-16 production line from Texas to here
Signalling the resumption of the world’s biggest international fighter aircraft procurement — the contest between seven international vendors and their Indian “strategic partners” to supply the Indian Air Force (IAF) with 114 fighters for $20-25 billion — US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and its Indian partner, Tata Advanced Systems (TASL), brought together on Tuesday a range of defence companies to form partnerships to build the F-21 fighter in India.

If New Delhi opts for the F-21 (basically a rebranded F-16 Block 70 fighter) Lockheed Martin has announced it will transfer the F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas to India, where TASL will assemble fighters for the IAF.

However, F-21 assembly alone will not meet the 40-50 per cent indigenisation target that New Delhi is stipulating as a condition for this contract. To achieve this, the Lockheed Martin F-16 vendor chain will also have to transfer a significant amount of production to Indian partners.

To facilitate production partnerships, the three-day “Suppliers Conference” inaugurated in New Delhi by Lockheed Martin and TASL, brings together the F-16’s current “Tier-1 vendors” (which build large F-16 systems) with potential Indian industry partners. In a process that a senior Lockheed Martin executive likens to “speed dating”, the conference will host 540 “business-to-business” meetings for these vendors to select promising Indian partner companies.

Scouting for Indian partners are more than 20 F-16 vendors, including the world’s foremost aerospace and defence firms: BAE Systems, Cobham, Collins Aerospace, Curtiss-Wright, Eaton, Elbit Systems, Elta, GE Aviation, Honeywell, L3Harris, Leonardo, Martin Baker, Meggitt, Moog, Northrop Grumman, Parker Hannifin, Pratt & Whitney, Rada, Rafael, Raytheon and Safran Electrical & Power.

Hoping to tie up with them are about 70 Indian suppliers. These include large public firms like Bharat Earth Movers Ltd, medium sized, high technology firms like Data Patterns and small electronics companies like Verdant.

Lall told Business Standard that, over the preceding year, a dedicated team of Lockheed Martin production experts has been visiting the facilities of potential Indian partner firms, carrying out on-site assessments of their capabilities. This followed two earlier supplier conferences held in Bengaluru.

Lockheed Martin is offering to support all 2,500 F-16s in operational service worldwide from its Indian production line. In addition, new F-16 orders from any country will be built on the Indian production line. The US company believes this offer of industrial partnership, and its benefit to India’s aerospace industry, makes the F-21 a front-runner in the IAF procurement.

“Our partnership with Indian industry… will put India at the epicentre of world’s largest defence ecosystem and deliver unmatched sustainment and export opportunities”, said Vivek Lall of Lockheed Martin. 

Lockheed Martin’s F-21 is competing for the IAF contract with Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; the Russian MiG-35 and Sukhoi-35; Saab’s Gripen E; Eurofighter GmbH’s Typhoon and Dassault’s Rafale.

Lockheed Martin is already building sophisticated aerospace structures in Hyderabad, in partnership with TASL, including include entire cabin structures for Sikorsky helicopters. Signalling its commitment to the TASL partnership, Lockheed Martin has announced that all F-16 wings will be built in Hyderabad henceforth, even if the IAF does not select the F-21.


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