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Committed To Making In India: Vivek Lall, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President, Strategy and Business Development

Lockheed Martin, which is offering India the F-21 medium multi-role combat aircraft, proposes to draw the country into its global supply chain by shifting its entire production of F-16 wings to Indian shores. In a chat with Manish Kumar Jha, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Vivek Lall, reiterates the US multinational’s commitment to growing the aerospace ecosystem in India “Committed to Making in India”

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The Indian Air Force’s bid to acquire 114 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) 2.0 could be that one big step toward turning India into a defence and aerospace hub, going by the proposal you have offered the Indian government. Please tell us about it.    

Lockheed Martin is offering an unprecedented Make in India opportunity and a true win-win for India and the United States. The F-21 will truly be a game-changer for the Indian Air Force, Indian industry and India-US strategic ties. We are confident that the F-21 is the best solution to the Indian Air Force’s capability needs, provides Make in India industrial opportunities and accelerates India-US cooperation in advanced technologies including but not limited to, fighter aircraft.  

The F-21 partnership integrates India into the world’s largest and most successful fighter aircraft ecosystem – a $165 billion market and demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to India to deliver an advanced, scalable fighter to the Indian Air Force that also provides unrivaled industrial partnership opportunities. Our track record of being the world’s pre-eminent fighter aircraft designer, producer, and sustainer, makes Lockheed Martin an ideal partner of choice for India. 

We also see tremendous strength and opportunity in India’s defence industry – both private and public. We are always looking for strategic Indian industry partners across the country – Indian companies of all sizes, including micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and suppliers throughout India – to collaborate and explore security solutions unique to India. The time is indeed now to lean into game-changing defence partnerships.

Lockheed Martin has fifth-generation capability. Will the technology reflect in the F-21 and make it part of India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programme?

Lockheed Martin continues to leverage technologies across its portfolio and the F-21 is no different. No other company has experience in next-generation technologies including but not limited to, fighter aircraft (that) Lockheed Martin can offer to India. We designed, developed and produced the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117, and the world’s only two currently operational 5th Generation fighters: the F-22 and F-35. 

Regarding India’s AMCA programme, public-private partnerships are a key part of building strategic, long-term international defence partnerships that benefit multiple stakeholders. For example, we signed a Certificate of Partnership earlier this year with BEML  one of India’s leading public sector companies to explore aerospace collaboration opportunities in India. As you may know, BEML has designed and developed ground support equipment for India’s light combat aircraft (LCA), the ‘Tejas’ fighter programme.

The late Manohar Parrikar, when Defence Minister, had disclosed that the IAF needs 200 new single-engine fighters. How does F-21 fill that gap?

The F-21 delivers an advanced single-engine, multi-role fighter at the most optimal Life Cycle Cost for the Indian Air Force with the longest service life of any competitor – 12,000 flight hours. Simply put, the F-21 goes further, faster, and stays longer than the competition. 

The F-21 will meet all of India’s performance, capability and advanced technology requirements, and provide unmatched opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes and suppliers throughout India.

Lockheed Martin said it would shift its entire global production of F-16 wings to India. Does that have anything to do with its commitment to build a full-scale ecosystem for the F-21 in India?

Yes. While the F-16 wing production move to India is also not contingent upon India selecting the F-21 for the Indian Air Force, the two programmes are complementary. F-16 wings for future customers will be built in India in partnership with the Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), our strategic industry partner in India. Wing production in India integrates India into the global supply chain of the world’s most successful fighter aircraft programme and further demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to India. 

Lockheed Martin has been engaged in India’s manufacturing space for the last decade and we’re actively looking for additional partners. Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems are hosting another industry supplier conference in India in July. Lockheed Martin, Tata Advanced Systems, Tier 1 suppliers and prospective Indian industry partners are gathering at the event to discuss partnership opportunities that strengthen India-US defence industrial ties and Make in India partnerships.

What are the new components in F-21 and will they be compatible with the next-generation upgrade, considering that it has an enhanced thrust engine mechanism? 

The F-21 leverages the combat-proven airframe of the F-16, primarily its aerodynamic superiority. 

How do these components make the F-21 substantially different from the F-16?

While aircraft structure may look familiar, the differences become clear when looking at the unique capabilities of the F-21, including an advanced APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which has detection ranges nearly double that of previous mechanically scanned array radars and the ability to track and attack more targets with higher precision; an Advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) System, developed uniquely for India, that provides enhanced survivability against ground and air threats; Long-Range Infrared Search & Track (IRST), enabling pilots to detect threats without detecting them; Triple Missile Launcher Adapters (TMLAs) allowing the F-21 to carry 40 per cent more air-to-air weapons; and a Dorsal Fairing enabling increased growth capacity and indigenous systems integration in the future.  

The F-21 is also the only fighter in the world with both probe/drogue and boom aerial fueling capability. This, along with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs), delivers greater range penetration and loiter staying power to the Indian Air Force. Simply put, the F-21 goes further, faster, and stays longer than the competition – all at the most optimal Life Cycle Cost for the Indian Air Force. Whether you’re talking about battlefields or budgets, the F-21 is the clear choice for India.

What will the F-21 production be worth, including the Tier 1 level companies in the aerospace cluster? 

It is a bit premature to provide such an estimate at this time, but we are actively engaged with Tata Advanced Systems, our strategic partner in India, and Tier 1 suppliers about Make in India opportunities for the F-21 and other programmes. 

The Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems and Tier 1 suppliers conferences, such as the one scheduled in New Delhi in July, demonstrating that Lockheed Martin, Tata, and our Tier 1 suppliers are committed to India. 

Will Lockheed also plan to make in India an MRO hub for the F-16?

That is certainly a possibility. There are approximately 3,000 operational F-16s in service today, and more production aircraft on the way. A natural benefit of F-21 production in India will be related to sustainment and follow-on procurement opportunities in India. 

The Indian defence ecosystem looks for investment from global OEMs. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence was a paltry $2.18 million last year. Could you outline the concrete policy measures that make investment attractive in the defence sector in India?

Defence-industrial partnership has long been a hallmark of strategic ties and trust between nations. The US and India are natural partners with many shared interests, and we are very encouraged by the positive trend we’re seeing in India-US relations, including on the defence -industrial partnership front. 

Robust, long-term defence partnerships are built on commitment and trust, which requires investing in people, as well as products and platforms. For example, in collaboration with Tata Advanced Systems, we have established an industrial base in Hyderabad where we currently produce C-130 empennages –  which incidentally are on all Super Hercules aircraft globally – and a metal-to-metal bonding facility at the same location. This bears testimony to our contribution to the development of Indo-US defence industrial partnership.                                                           

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