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BW Businessworld

F-21 Is The Best Fit For IAF’s Needs: Vivek Lall, VP- Strategy & Business Development, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company

In an interview with BW Businessworld, he says the Lockheed offer will not just herald a new era in Indo-US defence cooperation but also help build the most advance air capability for India.

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Indian American Vivek Lall, Vice President, Strategy & Business Development, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, has been pushing for greater Indo-US defence partnership. As part of his efforts, Lockheed has offered F 21 fighter planes for the Indian Air Force along with building its entire production line in India and integrating Indian companies with the global supply chain. Speaking with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha, he says the Lockheed offer will not just herald a new era in Indo-US defence cooperation but also help build the most advance air capability for India.


What are your thoughts on the defence industry and its potential to be the catalyst of industrial growth in India over the next 5-10 years? 

The game changer for ‘Make in India’ will be strategic, long-term international defence partnerships that benefit multiple stakeholders, but foremost fulfill India’s pressing needs to equip itself with advanced, scalable defence capabilities. We have been heartened that India’s defence budget and its domestic defence industry are growing, and we have identified several Indian companies of all sizes, including MSMEs, who we can ‘Make in India’ with and join our massive global supply chain. This enables Lockheed Martin to diversify its supplier ecosystem and deliver world-class products and capabilities from India to India and to the global market. We have demonstrated the success of this approach through our engagement in India’s manufacturing space for the last decade, and our joint ventures with Tata are a prime example of that.
The India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) 2.0 is a tripartite initiative of the Indian government, Lockheed Martin and Tata Trusts. Please tell us about the collaboration and outcomes.

Lockheed Martin has been a strong supporter of Government of India initiatives. As part of our larger commitment to support Indian innovation, Lockheed has sponsored and supported the India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) since 2007 in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology, the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas. The IIGP has pioneered an initiative that has supported more than 400 innovators and startups with in-depth technology commercialization training and handholding support to commercialise and scale their ventures in India and across the world. To date, the revenue generated for Indian entrepreneurs through this programme is approaching $1 billion.

Lockheed has offered the F-21 for the MMRCA procurement programme of the IAF. Define it in terms of design, avionics, stealth, and generational advancement? Is it delinked completely from the earlier proposed F-16 Block 70? 
The F-21 leverages the combat-proven airframe of the F-16 — primarily its aerodynamic superiority. The differences become clear when looking at the 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 (on C-model) enabling increased growth capacity and indigenous systems integration in the future. We are confident the F-21 is the best solution to meet the IAF’s capability needs, provide Make in India opportunities, and accelerate India-US cooperation in advanced technologies, including but not limited to fighter aircraft.

You said F-21 production in India will be exclusive, something that has never before been presented by any other fighter aircraft manufacturer. How would you plan to do it? When do we see the first prototype? 
The F-21 proposal is unique in that its  production line will be in India, and Indian industry will also be integrated into the global F-16 production and sustainment ecosystem. Approval by the US government for such an important strategic move signals a significant development in US-India relations.

The unmatched ecosystem we will partner with Indian industry and Lockheed’s top suppliers to develop will further strengthen India’s integration into the network of advanced fighter aircraft technology and cutting-edge production and sustainment.

India is simultaneously working on the AMCA programme and the winner of the MMRCA competition will assist the country’s development of its own indigenous stealth fighter. How would Lockheed contribute? 
We believe that only Lockheed has the stealth fighter experience and proven track-record of international partnerships to do this. We designed, developed and produced the world’s first operational stealth aircraft – the F-117 – and the only two operational 5th generation fighters — the F-22 and F-35. No other company has the experience in next-generation technologies.

We are confident that an F-21 partnership with Lockheed is India’s best path toward an even more advanced airpower and future technology.

The offsets policy seems to be lost in ambiguity. Foreign OEMs do not find it attractive enough to transfer technology to the IOPs. Could you suggest some measures to help the offsets discharge? 
Lockheed Martin’s F-21 programme will provide India with another opportunity to receive significant transfer of technology (ToT) that will place India at the forefront of defence manufacturing, sustainment and development. As it relates to offset, proper valuation of ToT is important, and restrictions on the amount of ToT that can be applied toward the discharge of an offset obligations can limit the full potential. Incentivising OEMs to transfer advanced proprietary technologies in support of larger, more complex projects that will shape industrial capabilities would benefit the industrial base. Proper valuation should reflect investments made by the OEM in the technology, licensing rights, resulting market opportunities, and training on the use of the technology. If the technology sought is of particular importance, additional incentives toward discharge of the offset and ToT requirements of a contract could be offered.

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