Advantage for Indian Airforce As US Airforce Plan to keep to F-16 till 2048
Department of Defense under Trump administration have decided to drop plans of retiring F-16 Fighting Falcons anytime soon from United State Air Force and instead have decided that at least 300 F-16 Fighting Falcons will receive a structural and avionics upgrades that will allow them to fly till 2048, thanks to a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) with Lockheed Martin.
F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications will allow the US Air Force to safely operate [F-16C and D] Block 40-52 aircraft to 2048 and beyond.
An F-16 life extension in the US Air Force means foreign air forces dependent on the F-16 will likely not have to worry about a reduction in the availability of parts and support and many new prospective customers like India now can be clear about it utility till 2050 and don’t have to worry about support contracts.
India and other potential F-16 buyers were in constant doubts on how long US support contracts for spares for F-16 will last since many F-16 aircraft which have been under production are from early 80’s and 90’s which are nearing their end.
Trump administration is likely to take a call when Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi visits United States later this year, whether to let Lockheed Martin shift its current production line from the United States to India to build 90-150 F-16V Block 70 Fighting Falcons for Indian Air Force .
As India looks to replace its ageing Soviet-era lightweight combat aircraft fleet, two players have emerged as possible contenders, American defence major Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70 and Swedish defence major Saab’s Gripen E fighter aircraft.
Indian Air Force (IAF) has requirement of over 400 fighter aircraft, which is far higher than the 126 aircraft that were supposed to be made by the now junked Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, IANS reported.
Block 70 F-16
This came up as a Surprise as nobody thought Lockheed Martin would make any further advancement to the system after making Block 60 for the Arabs. The F 16 IN Super Viper a contender in MMRCA competition is considered to be quite close to Block 70. But still Block 70 packs much masala in it to be an attractive choice for the EW dominated battlefield of the future and today. The strategic advantage as what being talked in defence circles is that Last Production line of F 16 will be shifted in India.
The Block 70 is the most advanced of all F-16s. There are 27 countries in the world who fly these planes, with the latest to join in two months time will be Romania.
The Block 70 F-16 will have the 5th generation fighter radar capabilities, some of which are greater detection and tracking ranges, multiple target track, high resolution synthetic aperture radar, auto target classification and cueing, advanced growth modes.
Lockheed martin has been in talks with the Indian Govt since April to bring the Texas production line to India, and 2017 is the timeframe they are looking at. About jobs being impacted back home in the US, Howard said that the F-35 fighter jet facility will be ramped up, meaning the F-16 workers will be absorbed there.
“The F-16 is by far the easiest fighter amongst its rivals…The new fighters, like Gripen, have a lot of composite materials, and lack a lot of generational changes and modifications over its lifetime.”The F-16 would be a great choice for India. Combat proven time and again. Upgradable with a high survivability portfolio.
Within the IAF, which has for the last four decades, focused its training and tactics on fighting Pakistan F-16s, there is entrenched resistance to buying that fighter. Further, the air marshals are certain Washington would never allow Lockheed Martin to offer the kind of holistic proposal and technology transfer that Saab has offered.
Assuaging these concerns, Ben Schwartz, who heads aerospace and defence for the US-India Business Council says: “The F-16 offers would come in as FMS deals with unprecedented technology transfer and Make-in-India characteristics. A lot of work has gone into evaluating the level of indigenization – more so than in any other case that people can recall.” Backing him up, a senior Pentagon official says: “In US-India negotiations today, you have to throw away all the assumptions of the past about what Washington will allow and what it will deny. Don’t assume anything is off the table.”
Radar and Sensor Suite :~
It is equipped with AN/ APG 83 AESA radar. Described as Agile beam it can perform Air to Air and Air to Ground Search and Track simultaneously. The noise reduction features of this one has made its range improved to almost 70 miles almost 84 km for engagement. The image quality in air to ground mode is described as imagery-class. Just the same that is acquired from satellites. They can be acquired from long distances for air to ground targets and using its synthetic aperture radar mode pilots can locate and recognise the ground targets. Prioritise them and engage.
The new MMC modules of it’s computers are said to be 30 % faster than previous ones. Which allows sensor data fusion from the EW sensors for better situational awareness , here notably the data transfer network is quite faster than previous systems like Link 16. It is also equipped with Off boresight aiming sensor which allows pilot to sense and target something out of his field of view.
Reasons for India to select F16
1 Single Supply Chain. More availability of parts. Faster Availability in wartime.
2 Battle Proven platform and sold to many NATO countries and various countries worldwide. So India can sell F 16 spare parts.
3 One of the most advanced Variant of F 16. With almost Medium Weight Category like capabilties.
4 Strategic advantage of grounding F 16s of Pakistan Air Force.
Reasons for not selecting F 16
1 High Operating and Life cycle costs as compared to Gripen.
2 Less Sensor packed than Gripen.
3 Adversary Air Forces know F 16 better so they can formulate Strategies to counter it.
4 No sepecific advantage to Other Indian Indegeneous products like LCA.
Seeing the requirement of IAF , the track record of F 16. This could be a better choice. Many people feel that Usage of F 119 engine could be a deal breaker but maintenance of that is quite expensive. It is unconfirmed yet. Even the USAF finds it hectic to maintain it. The F 16 has been used in wargames all around the world and therefore it wouldn’t be a formidable challenge for IAF’s enemies to develop counter strategies. The 16000m service cieling allows it to fly over himalayas comfortably.