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Lockheed Martin Announces Capability To Make Fighter Aircraft Wings In India

Production facility at JV with Tata to support F-21 bid for IAF’s upcoming $15 Bn MRFA tender

Photo Credit : Lockheed Martin

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The Lockheed announcement kicks off the global competition for the world’s largest order for fighter aircraft

American Aerospace and Defence giant Lockheed Martin on December 7 announced a proven capability to manufacture fighter aircraft wings at a joint venture production facility in Hyderabad in support of its campaign to sell 114 F-21 fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

A prototype wing of the F-16/F-21 fighter aircraft has been built at the Tata-Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL) to validate and demonstrate this capability. TLMAL is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), which is also the single global source of empennage assemblies for the iconic C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft. 

With the building of this prototype, Lockheed Martin formally recognized TLMAL as a potential future co-producer of fighter wings. This helps the world’s largest Defence contractor to demonstrate a production eco-system in India ahead of the IAF’s tender for the procurement of 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA). Conservatively estimated to be worth $15 Billion, this will be the world’s largest order for fighter aircraft. Lockheed Martin will be competing in this global competition with the F-21, which is a variant of the F-16 fighter. It has announced Tata as its partner for the bid.

Of the 114 fighters to be procured, 96 are to be built in India by an Indian Strategic Partner which submits a winning bid in technical collaboration with a foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). The first 18 are to be supplied in a fly-away condition by the OEM.

“Lockheed Martin partnered with TLMAL to build one of the most technologically complex aerostructures — a fuel-carrying 9G, 12,000 hour, interchangeable/replaceable fighter wing,” said Aimee Burnett, vice president of strategy and business development, Lockheed Martin Integrated Fighter Group, at a ceremony in Hyderabad to mark this event. 

“This effort represents Lockheed Martin demonstrating to India, and to the world, the degree of confidence that exists in our relationships with our partners in India. Lockheed Martin is one of the only aerospace and defence companies with a complex aerostructure capability for advanced fighters in India,” she said. The ceremony was attended by Telangana Industries and Commerce Minister KT Rama Rao and senior executives from Lockheed and TASL. 

TLMAL was established in 2010 to make aerostructures as part of offsets or counter trade obligations in the C-130J Super Hercules contract with the IAF. TLMAL recently reached the milestone of manufacturing and delivering the 150th C-130J empennage.

In 2018, Lockheed Martin and TLMAL signed an agreement to develop a fighter wing prototype. “Through this prototype project, TLMAL demonstrated the capability to perform detailed part manufacturing and delivery of a fully compliant representative fighter aircraft wing shipset,” according to a Lockheed Martin statement. 

“This achievement further strengthens Lockheed Martin’s partnership with India; and supports its F-21 offering for procurement of 114 new fighter aircraft — exclusively for India and the Indian Air Force — by proving additional indigenous production capability,” the statement added. 

The momentum to the partnership with Lockheed partnership further buttresses the credentials of TASL, which is fresh from the success of the $2.9 Billion deal for 56 Airbus C-295 medium transport aircraft for the IAF. Forty of these aircraft will be built by TASL at India’s first private sector aircraft assembly line. 

“The successful completion of the fighter wing shipset prototype project is another achievement added to the partnership between Tata Advanced Systems and Lockheed Martin,” said Sukaran Singh, managing director and chief executive officer, TASL. “With this, TLMAL creates a new benchmark in complex and end-to-end defence manufacturing in India that demands utmost precision and quality in all aspects of the process,” he added.