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Indian Fighter Competition heads up, F-16 production in Fort Worth to end

Lockheed Martin is in heated competition with Saab in Sweden to supply the IAF with single-engine fighter planes to amp up the country’s combat capabilities. The Indian government has set plans in motion to add at least 100 fighter jets to its military arsenal, after a deal with French manufacturer Dassault Aviation was scaled back last year.

U.S.-based Lockheed has offered up its F-16 Block 70 while Saab is proposing its Gripen-E. Both aircraft models come with state-of-the-art avionics, advanced radar systems and weapons capabilities, in addition to lower operational costs.

Lockheed says the F-16 Block 70 is unprecedented and technology enhancements build upon previous combat experience. The much touted configuration features improved pilot situational awareness with a new imagery screen, moving color maps and night vision. Advanced APG-83 AESA radar from Northrop Grumman includes detailed digital map displays with pan and zoom features and capabilities from the F-22 and F-35 AESA radar systems.

Saab calls its Gripen-E the ‘Smart Fighter.’ The next generation fighter aircraft combines sensor fusion, BVR capability and also features AESA radar systems. The Gripen-E has a multi-frequency data system that provides optimal pilot situational awareness. Data collection about each fighter jet’s position, weapon and fuel status can be shared with other Gripen jets through a data link.

Discussions with Indian Air Force officials are ongoing with both Lockheed Martin and Saab. In the hopes of sealing the deal, Lockheed is giving the Indian government an added incentive to win the coveted manufacturing contract. The U.S.-based military giant has suggested making India the sole manufacturer of F-16 fighter jets worldwide. However, the pending arrangement is contingent upon Lockheed being awarded the lucrative Indian contract, according to company executive Randall L. Howard, while Saab is countering the offer with a similar deal.

In anticipation of a possible agreement, Lockheed has announced tentative plans to close down its F-16 production plant in Fort Worth, Texas. Howard says after the closure, new military aircraft orders would be fulfilled from a planned Greenville, South Carolina facility. However, all production of IAF F-16s would be moved to India if Lockheed Martin wins the contract.

If the new strategic partnership moves forward, it will provide India with a world-class production base that would eventually expand to become the single production facility servicing jet fighter demand worldwide. The potential Lockheed Martin partnership was seeded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make-in-India’ plan. It requires that at least 100 of the new military jets be produced locally in India.

President Trump has been encouraging companies to invest domestically and create jobs in the United States under his ‘America First’ campaign. Even so, Lockheed Martin executives say the U.S. government is supporting the partnership plan because the billion-dollar deal would finance thousands of American jobs at Lockheed and its suppliers. In the coming days, the Indian government is expected to issue formal requests to both companies.


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