Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and US plane maker Lockheed Martin Corp. have signed an agreement to produce F-16 fighters in India ahead of the government’s plan to buy more fighter jets.
India is likely to need 200 more fighter planes and has sought proposals for single-engine craft.
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“F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the US, creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the centre of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world,” said a joint statement on Monday by Tata and Lockheed at the Paris Air Show, according to Reuters.
The deal comes days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US on 26 June. India has announced defence contracts ahead of or during similar international visits in the past. India and the US have increased defence cooperation over the past decade. US President Donald Trump, on his part, has opposed any move to move manufacturing facilities to foreign shores.
“This unprecedented F-16 production partnership between the world’s largest defence contractor and India’s premier industrial house provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world’s most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter,” the firms said in the statement.
India will also have the chance to export the F-16, which is flown by air forces around the world, the joint statement said. Some 3,200 of these planes are being flown by 26 countries.
Tata is already building airframe components for the C-130 military transport aircraft.
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“This agreement builds on the already established joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Tata and underscores the relationship and commitment between the two companies,” said N. Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons Ltd.
“Lockheed Martin is honored to partner with Indian defense and aerospace leader Tata Advanced Systems Limited on the F-16 programme,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “Our partnership significantly strengthens the F-16 ‘Make in India’ offer, creates and maintains numerous new job opportunities in India and the US, and brings the world’s most combat-proven multi-role fighter aircraft to India.”
Sweden’s Saab is the other contender to supply the Indian Air Force, offering to make its Gripen fighter in India. It has not yet announced a local partner for the plane, which it has pitched as a modern alternative to the F-16s.
Mint first reported on 16 February that Saab is in talks with the Gautam Adani-led Adani Group for a manufacturing partnership.
Saab has also promised to build what it calls a world-class fighter jet facility in India if it wins the order. It also did not offer any immediate comments on the subject on Monday evening.
The Adani Group entered the defence business in 2015. It has a Israeli joint venture called Adani-Elbit Advanced Systems India Ltd.
Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group has already formed a joint venture firm with Dassault Aviation SA of France for the manufacture of the 36 Rafale aircraft that India ordered for $8 billion during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to France in 2015.