Lockheed Martin: India and US Talk on Proposal to Build F-16s in India
February 17, 2017
U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin says talks are being held between
the American and Indian governments on its proposal to manufacture F-16
fighter jets in India.
The comment by Lockheed's head of F-16 business development, Randall
Howard, came at an air show in the Indian city of Bengaluru amid
questions whether the company's proposal to produce fighter jets in
India will run counter to U.S. President Donald Trump's opposition to
American companies moving jobs and manufacturing overseas.
Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Saab's Gripen fighter plane from Sweden are
regarded as the front-runners in getting a lucrative, multi-billion
dollar contract for 200 to 250 jets for the Indian air force that New
Delhi is expected to finalize sometime this year.
India has insisted that any foreign firm awarded the deal will have to
collaborate and manufacture in the country with a local partner to boost
its drive to build a domestic air production base. It is part of an
initiative by the world's biggest arms importer to link its defense
purchases, which could top $200 billion over a decade, to Prime Minister
Narendra Modi's "Make in India" pitch.
Lockheed Martin last year offered to set up a manufacturing base for
F-16s in India provided it is awarded a contract for the fighter jets
that India wants to buy - a proposal supported by the former Obama
administration. In fact, the company had proposed to make India the sole
producer of the single-engine combat aircraft, which is being phased out
in the United States, but for which it is seeking markets in other
Amid uncertainty about the new U.S. government's policy, Lockheed Martin
has said in Washington that the Trump administration will want to take a
"fresh look at some of these programs" and that it is "prepared to
support that effort to ensure that any deal of this importance is
properly aligned with U.S. policy priorities."
Inaugurating the air show earlier this week, Indian Defense Minister
Manohar Parrikar said no exceptions will be granted to setting up a
facility to produce planes in India, and it is up to companies making
proposals to get clearance with their governments. "That is my
requirement," he said.
India, once heavily dependent on arms purchases from Russia, has
diversified its purchases in recent years and defense imports from the
United States have grown quickly in recent years.
India's huge appetite for defense purchases to modernize its armed
forces attracted the world's top defense companies to the air show.
Among them was Sweden's Saab, which showcased its fighter jet at the air
show, and which reiterated its commitment to establishing what it called
a world class aviation facility in India to manufacture the Gripen both
for India and the global market.
Pitching for its Gripen aircraft, sales director Kent-Ake Molin told
reporters ahead of the air show that "what we are offering is a
futuristic, new generation plane and not one that is reaching the end of
Besides manufacturing, India has insisted on transfer of technology as
part of its efforts to build a domestic production base and end its
dependence on costly defense imports.
That was not expected to be a roadblock with the F-16 as American and
Indian defense ties have grown in recent years.
Mukherjee, assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies in Singapore said the deal "will be an important
topic of conversation between senior defense officials in both countries
in the next few months." He points out that although "there is a general
element of unpredictability around President Trump," it is widely
believed that U.S.-India defense ties will be marked more by "continuity
than disruptive change."
While that may be the case, defense analysts in India believe
uncertainty clouds the future of the proposal to make F-16s in India.
"This is going to be in direct conflict with (Trump's) America First,"
says Amit Cowshish with the New Delhi-based Indian Institute for Defense
Studies and Analyses, who was a former financial adviser to India's
From India's standpoint, he says any deal for fighter aircraft will have
to be contingent on local manufacturing. "For this government to go back
on it and say that we are just going to buy it off the shelf, or go with
some screwdriver technology, it is not going to go down well either with
their own philosophy or with the services."