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June 26, 2017

$2 bn Guardian drone deal with India set to be officially announced




The White House will formally announce the recently-approved $2 bn ‘Guardian’ drone deal for the Indian Navy, the first for a non-NATO country, at the end of a meeting between Modi and Trump.
The White House will formally announce the recently-approved $2 bn ‘Guardian’ drone deal for the Indian Navy, the first for a non-NATO country, at the end of a meeting between Modi and Trump. The deal’s clearance, apart from bolstering defence ties with India, gives a boost to India plans of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems that makes the predator drones.
Sources told FE that General Atomics is in talks with local companies here to build next-generation weapons and support systems based on advanced electromagnetic technologies here to take advantage of Modi’s Make in India programme. The company has already established a base in India and has roped in Vivek Lall as CEO for this purpose.
In fact, the Guardian drone deal was spearheaded by Lall, who has worked under various US administrations. Lall had previously worked for US-based Raytheon, NASA and headed Boeing’s India operations. In recent years, the US has become one of India’s largest defence suppliers, with deals totaling nearly $14 bn billion now, up from less than $300 million eight years ago.

 financialexpress

Russia and India may ink deal on frigate supplies by end of July


A contract on supplies of Russia’s Project 11356 frigates to India may be inked in three or four weeks, President of the United Shipbuilding Corporation Alexei Rakhmanov said on Monday.

"We are in the final stage of discussion with our customer on the fate of the fourth and fifth warships. I think we will tell you about this in the coming three or four weeks," Rakhmanov said.

Director for International Cooperation and Regional Policy at Russia’s State Corporation Rostec Viktor Kladov said earlier that the planned contract for the delivery of Project 11356 frigates for the Indian Navy would be implemented under the "two plus two" formula: two frigates are to be built in Russia and delivered ready-for-use to India and the other two would be constructed by the Indian shipbuilding industry at one of the national shipyards.

Tass

June 24, 2017

Bill tabled in US House of Representatives to revoke Pakistan's non-NATO ally status

 
Highlights
  • The bill was tabled by Republican Congressman Ted Poe and Democratic lawmaker Rick Nolan.
  • The bill calls for revoking Pakistan's status as major non-NATO ally (MNNA).
  • Under MNNA, Pakistan is eligible for priority delivery of defence materials.
A bipartisan bill seeking to revoke Pakistan's status as major non-NATO ally (MNNA) to the US has been introduced in the House of Representatives by two top lawmakers, saying the country failed to effectively fight terrorism.

Introduced by Republican Congressman Ted Poe and Democratic lawmaker Rick Nolan, the legislation calls for revoking MNNA status of Pakistan, which was granted to it in 2004 by the then president, George Bush, in an effort to get the country to help the US fight al-Qaida and the Taliban.

"Pakistan must be held accountable for the American blood on its hands," said Poe, who is a member of the foreign affairs committee and serves as chairman of the subcommittee on terrorism, non-proliferation and trade.

"For years, Pakistan has acted as a Benedict Arnold ally of the United States. From harbouring Osama bin laden to backing the Taliban, Pakistan has stubbornly refused to go after, in any meaningful way, terrorists that actively seek to harm opposing ideologies," he said.

'Benedict Arnold' is a byword in the US for treason or betrayal. Benedict Arnold was a general during the American Revolutionary War who originally fought for the American Continental Army but defected to the British Army.

"We must make a clean break with Pakistan, but at the very least, we should stop providing them the eligibility to obtain our own sophisticated weaponry in an expedited process granting them a privileged status reserved for our closest allies," Poe said.

Under MNNA, a country is eligible for priority delivery of defence materials+ , an expedited arms sale process and a US loan guarantee programme, which backs up loans issued by private banks to finance arms exports.

It can also stockpile US military hardware, participate in defence research and development programmes and be sold more sophisticated weaponry.

Last August, the then secretary of defence, Ash Carter, withheld $300 million in military reimbursements because he could not certify that Pakistan was taking adequate action against the Haqqani network, as required by the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA).

"Time and time again, Pakistan has taken advantage of America's goodwill and demonstrated that they are no friend and ally of the United States," Nolan said.

"The fact is, the billions of dollars we have sent to Pakistan over the last 15 years has done nothing to effectively fight terrorism and make us safer. It is time to wake up to the fact that Pakistan has ties to the same terrorist organisations which they claim to be fighting," he said.

The legislation will protect American taxpayer dollars and make the US and the world safer, Nolan said.

TOI

Guardian drones to act as force multipliers for Indian Navy


Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit, the US has cleared the sale of 22 predator Guardian drones, a force multiplier that will boost the Indian Navy's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The deal, estimated to be worth $2 to $3 billion, has been approved by the state department, sources said.

The decision has been communicated to the Indian government and the manufacturer by the state department yesterday, according to the informed governmental sources.

"This is the first very significant sign of the Trump administration being more result oriented in its relationship with India compared to Obama administration," a source said.

While the deal has not been formally announced, the sale of 22 predator drones being manufactured by General Atomics is "a game changer" for the US-India relations as it operationalises the status of "major defence partner".

The designation of India being a "major defence partner" was decided by the previous Obama Administration, and formally approved by the Congress.

The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to the questions in this regard. An official announcement is expected soon.

Modi's first meeting with Trump has been scheduled to take place at the White House on June 26.

According to General Atomics, the Predator Guardian UAV, a variant of the Predator B, can be used for wide-area, long- endurance maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

It can stay in the air for up to 27 hours and can fly at maximum altitude of 50,000 feet.

The Indian Navy made the request for this intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform last year.

This maritime capability will be a force multiplier for the Indian Navy who has procured other advance technologies including Boeing P-8 aircraft.

The Guardian has cutting edge technologies that do not do not exist in the current Indian Navy arsenal.

 TOI

India, Russia finalise deal on frigates, S-400 missile system & Kamov helicopters


India and Russia adopted a roadmap for defence cooperation on Friday, building on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia earlier this month. The two sides have taken forward their defence partnership to concretise deals on frigates, S-400 air defence missile system and Kamov helicopters, people familiar with the matter said.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, who is in Russia this week on his second visit since April, co-chaired the 17th meeting of the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) on Friday with his Russian counterpart, General Sergei Shoigu.

“We are determined to go ahead with building cooperation in order to enhance the combat readiness of both countries’ armed forces and to exchange experience in various defence-related matters,” Shoigu said at a meeting, according to Russian news agency Tass.

The Russian minister, according to Tass, said that in accordance with the agreements experts from both sides drafted a roadmap for the development of military cooperation, which will become the basic document for planning bilateral defence engagements. Jaitley and Shoigu discussed the final shape of defence deals that include S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems, four Krivak class stealth frigates and Kamov 226T helicopters.

Ahead of Modi’s visit to St Petersburg for the annual summit, a special arrangement was made to make Indo-Russia defence projects work around the sanctions. Under the arrangement, India is understood to have waived banking guarantee clause mandatory for securing defence contracts in India. Instead India accepted a sovereign guarantee from Russia.

Earlier this week Jaitley spoke at the newly established India-Russia High-Level Committee on Science and Technology in Novosibirsk to discuss cooperation in high technologies and emphasised on bilateral cooperation with India moving closer to Wassennar membership. In March, Jaitley had invited Russian companies to share some critical technologies with India and produce defence equipment in India.

The next month he said that both the countries had started serious discussions with Russia for setting up another defence manufacturing unit under the ‘Make in India’ programme. India and Russia have identified 485 lines for transfer of technology (ToT) to support the Su-30 MKI fleet. A total of 20 Indian vendors have been introduced to Russia to find out the feasibility of ToT by Indian vendors.

 economictimes

Indian Black Shark torpedo deal for Navy might be revived


Italy's Whitehead Sistemi Subacquei S.p.A., a subsidiary of Leonardo, might be reconsidered to supply Black Shark torpedoes for French Scorpene submarines currently being built in India, according to sources in the Indian Ministry of Defence.

This follows observations made by India's attorney general on the legality of issuing tenders and its subsidiary defence companies, which are facing probes on charges of alleged corruption.

In June of last year, MoD announced the cancellation of a $200 million deal for Black Shark torpedoes, but MoD sources said the tender was not formally cancelled and that no intimation of the cancellation was conveyed to the Italian company.

Whitehead Sistemi Subacquei S.p.A., or WASS, was declared the winner over Atlas Elektronik of Germany in 2014 in a global tender to supply Black Shark torpedoes to be mounted on the six French Scorpene submarines licensed produced by state-owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd.

Although WASS emerged as the lowest bidder against Atlas Elektronik, the contract could not be signed because in August 2014, the government put a ban on signing the contracts in the wake of the probe into the VVIP helicopters scam relating to AgustaWestland, another subsidiary of Leonardo.

After coming to power, the ruling Modi government in August 2014 issued a “partial” ban against Leonardo and its subsidiaries according to which ongoing contracts could continue on their path, while all fresh deals remained banned. However, WASS had not signed the torpedo deal.

The latest recommendations of the attorney general to go ahead with the tender from WASS, if accepted by the MoD, could result in a tender for the torpedoes.

An MoD source said that the attorney general has advised the MoD that the contract with WASS should not be cancelled because the Indian Navy cannot find suitable replacements very easily at the same cost, and absence of torpedoes will hit Scorpene submarines' operational capabilities.

Besides, the Indian Navy would need to carry out suitable modifications in the torpedo tubes of the French Scorpene submarines for another type of torpedo, resulting in further delays.

The Black Shark torpedoes, if contracted by the Indian government, will be licensed produced in India with transfer of technology in certain critical areas at state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited, or BDL, in Hyderabad.

A total of 98 heavy-weight torpedoes are to be procured out of which the seller would quote for 20 torpedoes in fully formed condition, and the remaining 78 torpedoes will be license produced at BDL.

defencenews.com

June 23, 2017

Officials race against time to seal F-16 BLOCK-70 deal in US


Officials are working overtime to complete negotiations on moving the assembly line for the F-16 fighter jet to India to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump to jointly make an announcement on the deal.

While there are still too many gaps to be filled, officials are trying to finalise at least the framework before Modi travels to Washington on Saturday. Well-informed sources told ET that the two sides were hammering out details to ensure India was in compliance with US law on proprietary technology.

The information could not be officially confirmed as both sides are keeping a tight lid on the substance of Modi’s visit. US laws governing sale of sophisticated military technology are extremely intricate with overlapping jurisdictions by the Defence, State and Commerce departments.

India too has hesitations about dependence on the US, especially at a time of flux in the international system. The announcement, if it comes when Modi meets Trump on June 26 at the White House, would be a good example of India’s designation by the Obama Administration as a “major defence partner,” especially if the deal is studded with significant transfers of technology.

It would show that “Make in India” and “America First” can meet somewhere in the middle. In 2015, Modi made a surprise announcement while on a visit to France in 2015 to buy 36 “ready to fly” Rafale aircraft after negotiations with Dassault for 126 multi-role, medium-range combat aircraft or MMRCA unraveled.

On Monday, Lockheed Martin announced it had signed a “landmark agreement” with Tata Advanced Systems Limited “affirming the companies intent to join hands to produce the F-16 Block 70 in India,” causing waves of excitement on Twitter.”

The two companies are still working out details but Lockheed is clearly making a big push to win the deal. An Indian official told ET the government is yet to make a decision and Lockheed was taking “a leap ahead” with its announcement.

The signing is in anticipation of the government of India’s decision in Lockheed’s favour and against Sweden’s Saab whose Gripen fighter is in competition to supply the IAF. But the IAF is yet to place an order for the 100 or more single-engine aircraft it needs to replace the MiG-21s.

Although there are many unknowns on the Indian side, Lockheed executives have apparently been working on the Trump Administration with some success. Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed’s aeronautics division, told Defence News at the Paris Air Show that his company had “briefed various members of the administration on the programme” and there is confidence that the Trump Administration would be supportive.

“We haven’t seen any resistance to the programme by the administration” Carvalho was quoted as saying.Trump has emphasised keeping jobs in the US under the “Buy American, Hire American” slogan.

So far, his administration has not said anything about the F-16 line moving to India. The Obama Administration gave both Lockheed Martin and Boeing the green signal last December to build production facilities in India.

It’s unclear at this stage if the US government is willing to part with crucial technology – a key Indian demand. Since the Pakistan also flies the F-16, it’s unclear whether India would exercise control on future orders.

economictimes

Ahead Of PM Modi's Visit, US Approves Sale Of 22 Guardian Unmanned Drones To India: Report

 
Highlights
  • The 22 unarmed drones reportedly worth more than $2 billion
  • Indian navy is getting drones to keep watch over the Indian Ocean
  • India, US will also discuss sale of US fighter jets during PM Modi's trip
Just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Donald Trump for the first time in Washington, the US has cleared the sale of 22 unmanned Guardian drones to India, news agency Press Trust of India reported on Thursday.

The report added that the deal has been approved by the US State Department and has been communicated to the Indian government and the manufacturer of the drone, California-based General Atomics.

Securing agreement on the purchase of the 22 unarmed drones - reportedly worth more than $2 billion - was seen in Delhi as a key test of defence ties that flourished under former President Barack Obama but drifted under Mr Trump, who has courted India's rival China as he seeks Beijing's help to contain North Korea's nuclear programme.

PM Modi's two-day visit to Washington begins on Sunday. Mr Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping in April and has also had face-time with the leaders of nations including Japan, Britain and Vietnam since taking office in January, prompting anxiety in Delhi that India is no longer a priority in Washington.

The Indian navy getting the unarmed surveillance drones it wants to keep watch over the Indian Ocean will be the first such purchase by a country that is not a member of the NATO alliance.

"We are trying to move it to the top of the agenda as a deliverable, this is something that can happen before all the other items," said one official tracking the progress of the drone discussions in the run-up to the visit.

India, a big buyer of US arms recently named by Washington as a major defence ally, wants to protect its 7,500 km (4,700 mile) coastline as Beijing expands its maritime trade routes and Chinese submarines increasingly lurk in regional waters.

But sources tracking the discussions say the US State Department has been concerned about the potential destabilising impact of introducing high-tech drones at a time when tensions are simmering between India and Pakistan.

"There is a palpable fear in New Delhi that the new US president's lack of focus on India, and limited appointment of South Asia focused advisors, has resulted in India falling off the radar in Washington," Eurasia Group's Shailesh Kumar and Sasha Riser-Kositsky said in a note quoted by news agency Reuters.

Defence deals, however, are one area where the two countries could make progress.

The two sides had stepped up efforts in recent weeks to get inter-agency clearance for the sale of the Guardian drone.

India has raised the issue of the drones with the Pentagon three times since June 2016, officials said, according to Reuters. The agency also said that an industry official involved in promoting India-US business ties said the drone sale enjoyed support from the White House and Congress.

While the Guardian drones that India is pushing for are unarmed, the Indian military had originally asked for missile-firing Predator Avenger aircraft, a request turned down by the Obama administration.

US export laws typically prohibit the transfer of such arms to a country unless it is fighting alongside US forces.

India and the United States will also discuss the sale of US fighter jets during PM Modi's trip, in what could be the biggest deal since they began deepening defence ties more than a decade ago.

On Monday, Lockheed Martin announced an agreement with India's Tata Advanced Systems to produce F-16 planes in India, provided it won a contract to equip the Indian Air Force with hundreds of new aircraft.

Lockheed has offered to shift its ageing F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas as part of PM Modi's "Make-in-India" drive while it ramps up production of the high-end F-35 aircraft at home.

Since Mr Trump's election on an "America First" platform, US and Indian officials have sought to play down any contradiction between his stated desire to protect American jobs and PM Modi's "Make in India" policy, arguing, for example, that deals in which components made in the United States are shipped to India for assembly benefit workers in both countries.

US officials expect a relatively low-key visit by PM Modi, without the fanfare of some of his previous trips to the United States, and one geared to giving the Indian leader the chance to get to know Mr Trump personally.

PM Modi is expected to discuss the H 1-B visa programme that the Trump administration is reviewing to reduce the flow of skilled foreign workers and save jobs for Americans.

Indian Trade Secretary Rita Teaotia told reporters this week that the H-1B visas, under which Indian IT firms send large numbers of professionals to the United States, would be one of the issues on the table during PM Modi's visit.

NDTV

June 22, 2017

India, Russia to ‘Soon’ Set Delivery Date for S-400 Missile Air Defense Systems


Russia and India will soon conclude the final contract for the delivery of five regiments of Russian-made S-400 Triumf advanced Air Defense Systems (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler), according to a senior Russian defense industry official.

The head of Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheyev, told TASS news agency on the sidelines of the Le Bourget international aerospace show on June 21 that the signing of a final contract is imminent. “Rosoboronexport is carrying out pre-contractual work with Indian partners. We are discussing the technical issues of the deliveries. I can assure you that both our company and the Indian side are set to sign the contract soon,” the chief executive officer said.

As I reported previously (See: “India and Russia Ink S-400 Missile Air Defense System Deal”), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an intergovernmental agreement for the procurement of five regiments of S-400s in October 2016 during the eighth BRICS summit. India will be the second country after China, which ordered six S-400 battalions in 2014, to receive one of Russia’s most advanced air defense systems. China is expected to receive the first S-400 units in 2018.

“The S-400 Triumf long-range air defense missile systems will be delivered to China in strict compliance with the contract concluded between Rosoboronexport and the Chinese side. There are no causes to doubt the timely and qualitative fulfillment of the accords,” Mikheyev said this Wednesday.

The S-400 is capable of engaging missiles of all types and ranges, stand-off jammer aircraft, as well Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. It can also engage targets in an electronic countermeasures environment. The new weapons systems will significantly boost India’s and China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. As I explained elsewhere:

In comparison to its predecessor, the S-300, the S-400 air defense system features an improved radar system and updated software; it can purportedly can fire four new types of surface-to-air (SAM) missiles in addition to the S-300’s 48N6E, a vertical tube launched, solid fuel, single stage SAM with an estimated range of 150 kilometers (93 miles), and the improved 48N6E2 missile with a reported range of 195 kilometers (121 miles).

One of the S-400’s new missiles is the so-called 40N6 SAM with an estimated operational range of 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) and an altitude of up to 185 kilometers (607,000 feet). The missile is reportedly capable of exo-atmospheric interception of intermediate-range ballistic missile warheads in their terminal phase. However, it is unclear whether the weapon is operational in Russia yet and no images of the 40N6 SAM have surfaced so far.

The S-400 is also armed with an improved variant of the 48N6E2 with an alleged range of 250 kilometers (160 miles). The air defense system can also fire two additional missiles, the 9M96E and 9M96E2 with respective ranges of 40 km (25 miles) and 120 km (75 miles). Improved S-300 air defense systems such as the S-300PMU-2 Favorite (sold to Iran), can purportedly also fire the 9M96E and 9M96E2. The S-400 can purportedly fire missiles at a rate 2.5 times faster than its predecessor, the S-300.

The India military is expected to deploy three S-400 regiments in the country’s west, facing Pakistan, and two regiments in the east near the Sino-Indian border. One S-400 is divided up into two battalions. Each battalion consists of eight launchers armed with up to 32 missiles.

 thediplomat

Indian Air Force plans to add muscle to Sukhois



Seeking to enhance the capabilities of its Sukhoi-30 combat aircraft, the Indian Air Force is now planning to upgrade the capabilities of its frontline planes by equipping them with longer range air-to-air missiles and advanced target detection capabilities.

The upgrades in capabilities are being discussed with the original aircraft manufacturer Russia, which supplied the planes to India in the late 1990s.

"We are looking for enhancing the capabilities of the aircraft by equipping it with more potent weapons including air-to-air missiles with kill ranges up to 120 kilo metres like the Meteor missiles which are being fitted on the Rafales," sources told MAIL TODAY.

Under the plans to enhance the capabilities, the air frame of the planes would also be strengthened to allow it to carry heavier missiles with longer ranges for carrying out special operations, the sources said.

The aircraft is already being upgraded for carrying the Brah-Mos supersonic cruise missile which would be hitting targets in ranges up to 300 km.


ENHANCING ENEMY DETECTION CAPABILITY

The Air Force is also planning to enhance the enemy detection capabilities with advanced radar like the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which can help the IAF pilots to track enemy planes and target more effectively and at longer ranges, the sources said.

The IAF has placed the orders for 272 Su-30MKIs from Russia in different batches and they have been deployed across the country at different locations in 12 squadrons.

After the phasing out of the MiG-series planes including the MiG 21s and the MiG 27s, the Su-30MKIs would be mainstay of the Air Force with responsibility of looking after both the Eastern front with China and Western front with Pakistan.

Under the upgraded plans, the IAF is looking to involve the first few batches of the aircraft that it received from the Russians known as Mark I. The rest of the aircraft would be upgraded as the batches keep getting enhanced capabilities.

About three years back, the IAF had also issued a Request to Information to the European vendors for acquiring stand-off missiles with ranges beyond 300 kilometres for being fired from the Sukhois.

For the upgrade project, Russia is also trying to involve European companies for providing weapon systems and avionics and has already started talking to some of the vendors there.

The plan for upgrading the Sukhois has been hanging fire for close to a decade now as the discussions on the issue had started between the two countries around 2009-10 itself.

However, the project cost has escalated hugely in these years as the Russians are now asking somewhere between US$ 7-8 billion (Rs 45,000-52,000 crore) for the upgrades.

 indiatoday

Why FDN2 is a giant leap for the Indian Navy


The launch of FDN2, india's first indigenously developed floating dock, has more to it than meets the eye.

Launched on Tuesday from Larsen & Toubro's greenfield shipyard at Kattupalli, Chennai, the dock is the second of its kind to be commissioned by the Indian Navy. Commissioned after a gap of 30 years, the new dock will join its predecessor at the naval base at Port Blair.

Commissioned by the Defence Ministry in 2015, the 8,000 tonnes FDN2 will be used for the repair of all naval assets other than aircraft carriers. Apart from oil tankers and aircraft carriers, floating dockyards are the biggest ships on the planet.

The significance of the commissioning of the vessel is the strategic role Port Blair will play in the new geo-political situation. With China beefing up its naval power in the Indian Ocean, there is a growing requirement for higher attention towards the eastern coastline which is the door to India's far east trade.

This calls for improved facilities at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. But given that the area is prone to earthquakes ,it is quite impractical to build a dry dock there. It is in this context that the navy's setting up of an additional dockyard in Port Blair gains significance.

Thus, the commissioning is not just an example for India's rising naval power, but seems to be a clear message of the country's commitment to take up any challenge in the eastern waterways.

moneycontrol

F-16: What it takes to build this fighter plane in India


Following up on news of India’s Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) signing an agreement with US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin confirming the companies’ intent to set up a joint production facility for F-16 Block 70 fighter planes in India, we spoke to F-16 experts at Lockheed Martin in the US to understand the nuts and bolts of what it would take to build this fighter aircraft in India.

John Losinger from Lockheed’s Integrated Fighter Group ( F-16, F-22, T-50, F-2) in Texas and Abhay Paranjape, Executive Director of International Business Development at the company spoke with Firstpost, New York on everything from the production line to the typical employment generation and gestation period in the making of these fighter jets which could potentially lead to “thousands of jobs”.

The Tata - Lockheed announcement comes days ahead of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the US for a summit meeting with Donald Trump where defence and security will likely play a star role. Reuters reports that Lockheed's leader of F-16 business development Phil Howard clarified that the Tata- Lockheed deal will not cross wires in Washington where Donald Trump's America First campaign insists on creating jobs at home.

India's latest tweaks to its defence procurement policy gives top billing to partnerships that help the 'Make in India' push rather than outright buys. This is the context of the Tata-Lockheed agreement which means this combine will be competing with other Indian-foreign JVs for defence tenders. The Tata-Lockheed agreement signals intent to move in a certain direction but India's Ministry of Defense (MoD) has not yet issued global competitive bids for single-engine fighter aircraft.

India has been in the market for around 200 new fighter planes because the existing MiG 21s fleet is old and accident prone.

India’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) to global aircraft manufacturers and has announced that there will be competitive bidding to build a new single-engine fighter aircraft under Modi’s “Make in India” push.

Back in late 2016 itself, India has already received “unsolicited offers” from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Saab to build the Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Saab Gripen E fighter jet in India, according to a report in Business Standard.

As of date, approximately 3,200 F-16s are in operation, flown on combat missions by 25 countries worldwide.The F-16 remains the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s current frontline air fleet which recently announced plans to extend the structural service life of up to 841 of its F-16s, signaling the U.S. Air Force intends to operate F-16s to 2048 and beyond.


With Lockheed Martin sealing a deal with the Tatas, it’s clear that the Americans are now saying alright, we’re in the game, who will you pick? The Swedes, the French or us?

The Q and A below with Lockheed’s Losinger and Paranjape has been edited for brevity. Certain portions have been highlighted for emphasis and relevance.


Firstpost: Break it down for us, what does it take to build an F-16 in India along with a local partner?

Lockheed: The F16, as with other aircraft, has a huge supply chain. We have pieces and components coming in from multiple companies - think of it as similar to a car’s supply chain. Add to this a workforce that’s already trained and they’re able to execute in total sync with the supply chain. We need to get all of the “long lead” items in, do the final assembly and check and delivery - so each plane takes 3 to 4 years. Having said that, a company that’s starting from scratch will have to come up on a learning curve. In the beginning, they might take longer and that is natural. We’ve done this kind of work in the past in multiple countries. So we would like to start in India with a company that can come here, learn from us and go back and start assembly, then go into component production and then into detailed assemblies. We take a crawl-walk-run approach. The number of jobs will be in the thousands.


FP: Where do you start, what’s the first thing you would have to do?

Lockheed: In the end, this will be a government to government agreement. The first several aircraft will be delivered from the US production line. It starts off with getting the user (say, Indian Air Force) to become familiar with the aircraft, figure out if there are any special systems that need to be going on to that aircraft…and simultaneously training the right set of people, do the tech transfer, tooling set-up, they will need the right sort of buildings, runway facilities so there is a seamless transition from aircraft being delivered from the US to aircraft being delivered from India. So we would have people from the US in India and vice versa.
You may have heard the term transfer of technology (in the context of the recent tweaks in India’s defense procurement) - there is a lot of production technology that has to be learnt. Building fighter aircraft is a highly specialised skill set - very different from manufacturing cars or even helicopters which a company like TASL may have some experience with.


FP: Is it true that no new F16 orders are scheduled beyond this year from the US?

Lockheed: That’s right.


FP: What about from outside the US?

Lockheed: We have international sales and that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing ever since the early 2000s. The F16 is operated in more than 26-27 countries.


FP: We hear that America is moving on from the F-16 to the F-35, is that right?

Lockheed: We see a large market for F16s still. The US airforce will continue to operate their existing F16s for the next 30 years or so. India’s advertised needs have been more than a 100 aircraft. We are engaged in multiple conversations right now. For any partner who produces this aircraft, the market for export, parts, spares, support, after-sales, modifications and upgrades - sustainment as we call it…is huge. A 100 or so aircraft in not the business case, its the ecosystem of maintenance and upgrades that makes sense. You mentioned the Block 70, in future there will be other blocks. We expect the F16 to continue to operate for the next 30 to 40 years.


FP: Is it true that your Texas assembly line may shut down if there are no further orders?

Lockheed: That’s right. We will be delivering the last of the orders later this year and transition the production facility to Greenville, South Carolina. The existing production facility is being ever more used by F35s and our facility in Greenville has the production capacity and the people to fulfill near term production orders.


FP:What happens to the people working on Texas assembly line? Do they lose their jobs?

Lockheed: Some of those folks have chosen to retire and some have moved to F35 production. Workforce anywhere is commensurate with production rate, so it’s a relatively small workforce.


FP:How many people?

Lockheed: It’s less than 200 folks and that number has slowly but surely been decreasing as we move towards more F35 production.


FP: So, if you have less than 200 people here, how does a JV translate to 1000s of jobs in India?

Lockheed: What John’s talking about is just the final assembly. We are not going into India with just the final assembly. We are looking at producing majority of the aircraft in India. If you take our phased approach, we will start with final assembly first and that will take a few hundred people. But we are looking at production, components and assembly all moving to India, the jobs will be a lot more. The workforce requirement is commensurate with the production rate, so it depends on the order size.


FP: What’s the org structure like for building an F16 - starting from the most junior staff?

Lockheed: Majority of them would be skilled technicians. They would have to be trained to work on aircraft systems.


FP: Do they have to be engineers?

Lockheed: No, I mean people who have been trained through an ITI or equivalent technical training institution with a diploma. That’s a large amount of the workforce and it’s pretty similar in the US also. Then you need entry level engineers, designers, supply chain managers, software engineers, hardware engineers, supply chain integrators, business people - the whole spectrum. You also need skilled technicians and engineers for testing the systems, the worthiness of the aircraft itself. You start with technician level and then you have people at all of these levels. You would need systems engineers and industrial engineers who understand process flow and production line - so various kinds of engineers at every level and business managers who can understand both the flow of equipment and flow of money. This is like bringing up a whole new industry. Working with a company like Tata and TASL means they already have a lot of the processes understood which is a big benefit.


FP: Saab Gripen is also in contention…

Lockheed: We don’t want to get into that - it’s like comparing cars. All we’ll say is that the number of countries in which we operate, the number of planes we have sold, air-to-air and air-to-ground success - your compare it to any other aircraft, not just the Gripen, and we win hands down. This is a constantly evolving aircraft system, it has been widely successful and that’s why interest is continuing. There are 3200 operational F16s today in the world flying with 25 customers. Few customers have stopped operating them but the deep and wide supply chain ecosystem ensures that upgrades are continuously happening. The US Air force has not bought F16s since the late 1990s but they are keen to extend the life of the existing fleet. The US Air Force, although it is recapitalisting its fleet with the F35, the F-16s will continue for a few decades at least.


FP: Is the F35 operational?

Lockheed: Yes, the F-35 is operational and they are actually deploying it to bases around the world. We have some international orders - it’s an initial aircraft but not an operational fleet - just one or two.

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