F16s are old, but Lockheed-Tata partnership will push Make In India initiative

All the MiG 21s and MiG 27s in the Indian Air Force (IAF) arsenal is due to retire by 2025. IAF has 33 squadrons of fighter aircrafts and the numbers are dominated by single engine fighters.

India will be having 36 Dassault fighters but this number is not enough to cover operational requirements. So basically a search for a single engine replacement for the MiG 21 continues.

News came in that the defence arm of the Tata Group has signed an agreement with American firm Lockheed Martin to produce and export new generation F-16 fighter aircraft. Tata Advanced Systems Limited-Lockheed Martin combine will be in direct competition with Sweden’s Saab, whose Gripen fighter aircraft will be up for the trial too.

If F16s win the trials, Lockheed Martin would move the entire production line from Texas to India. If it so happens it will be a major, if limited boost for the ‘Make in India’ initiative. The move may feature in PM Modi’s upcoming summit talks with US President Donald Trump.

The F16 Block 70 is more than an upgrade on the F 16 IN Super Viper, which was a contender in MMRCA competition. Now Saab JAS 39 Gripen E on offer to India for the trials is a formidable single engine fighter.

It is probably the most advanced in its category and its life cycle costs and maintenance costs are lower. However, this nifty Swiss offering uses an US engine and that could be an issue. Besides, a Gripen costs more than the Block 70 F 16 on offer.

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F16 AIRCRAFTS PEERLESS

Thirdly if you are looking for a proven fighter then Gripen is not battle proven – and in that department F16s are peerless. The Block 70 version is in operation across 27 countries with the latest probably being Romania.

Another factor that can tilt the decision in favour of F16 is that currently about 32,000 are in service worldwide and if US and Lockheed Martin agree to make India the hub of manufacturing spares as well it could offset the investment cost of setting up the manufacturing hub.

Besides, the capacity of the F 16 to fly unrefueled for over 4,300 km or its ability to fly over the Himalayas and the prospect of interoperability with over 26 air forces worldwide gives it an edge, although the same will rule out plotting any strategic surprises with the F 16.

Then the F16 Block 70-72 will probably cost IAF around USD 10 million cheaper apiece than the Gripen which is in the bracket of USD 30-60 million bracket.

ECONOMICALLY VIABLE

So basically we have a modern 4.5 generation multi role fighter that is costlier and a proven workhorse that has few surprises but is economically viable.

Over and above shifting of production line to India would ensure some reduction in maintenance cost and cost of spare parts.

That makes the F 16 Block 70s an economically viable replacement for the battle proven MiG 21s.

 

 

 

 

 

Source:- India Today

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