Moving Past Trump Haze, Tata and Lockheed Announce F-16 India Partnership

The Tata-Lockheed combine will likely go head-to-head with Sweden’s Saab for the Indian Air Force’s $10-billion single-engine fighter deal.

Two of the first four Polish Air Force F-16 fighter jets . Credit: Reuters

Two of the first four Polish Air Force F-16 fighter jets . Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: The Tata Group and military equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin on Monday officially threw their hat into India’s $10-billion search for 200 single-engine fighter jets, announcing an “agreement affirming the companies’ intent to join hands and to produce the F-16 Block 70 in India”.

At the Paris Air Show, both companies officially signed an agreement that would have Tata Advanced Systems partner with Lockheed to “produce, operate and export the F-16 Block 70 aircraft” (an updated, more advanced version of the F-16) as part of its Make-in-India defence bid.

“F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the US, creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions the Indian industry at the centre of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world,” the companies said in a joint statement.

As The Wire reported back in February 2017, Lockheed and Saab are likely the two major competitors in the single-engine fighter competition and that the Tatas would likely play a major role in Lockheed’s bid given their past collaborative efforts.

Lockheed has over the last eight months held meetings with over 40 different companies to gauge which firms could be used to help build a supply chain for manufacturing the F-16 aircraft.

Also read: Which is Better Poised to Win, The F-16 or the Gripen-E?

“They’ve been holding meetings in Bangalore and Mumbai, mostly last November and December, to decide which companies they could partner with,” a senior industry executive had told The Wire.

Saab, which is positioning its Gripen-E fighter jet against the F-16 has already announced that if it wins the Indian Air Force’s order, it will create one of the “world’s most modern fighter aircraft facility in India”.

Shadow of Trump

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that while Lockheed did want to push ahead with plans to move the production of its F-16 combat jets to India, provided the Narendra Modi government chose the company as a contractor, President Donald Trump’s administration would want a “fresh look” at the proposal.

Since his electoral victory, Trump has openly criticised American companies that move their manufacturing operations overseas and then sell their products back to the US market.

“We’ve briefed the administration on the current proposal, which was supported by the [Barack] Obama administration as part of a broader cooperative dialogue with the government of India,” a company spokesperson had told Reuters. “We understand that the Trump administration will want to take a fresh look at some of these programs, and we stand prepared to support that effort to ensure that any deal of this importance is properly aligned with US policy priorities.”

However, with Lockheed going officially ahead with its partnership with the Tatas, it appears that the Trump administration doesn’t harbour any major concerns over its proposal.

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