Lockheed Martin F-21
F-21 as shown by Lockheed Martin in a promotional videoCredit: Lockheed Martin

The race to supply 114 fighter jets to the Indian Air Force for $20-25 billion is picking up pace. American aerospace company Lockheed Martin and its Indian partner, Tata Advanced Systems (TASL), have brought together a number of defence companies to form "strategic partnership" to manufacture F-21 fighter in India. Leading military aircraft manufacturing companies are fighting it hard to get the multi-billion-dollar contract.

Earlier, Lockheed had offered F-16s to IAF but the aircraft is being used by Pakistan Air Force. Considering IAF's concern, Lockheed is now offering F-21s fighter aircraft. Notably, Indian Air Force (IAF) had received responses to its "request for information" (RFI) from the world's topmost fighter aircraft manufacturers for the purchase of more than 100 fighter planes last year. The RFI has got attention from all the fighter manufacturing fraternity with American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Russian Aircraft Corporation, Dassault of France, Swedish firm Saab and European consortium Eurofighter GmbH showing their interest to supply the aircraft desired by the IAF.

F-21 Lockheed Martin
F-21 Lockheed MartinCredits: Lockheed Martin

Moving further in the direction, Lockheed Martin is gathering local vendors in India to showcase that the Maryland-based behemoth is seriously considering the idea of Make in India, Business Standard reported. The company has offered to transfer its entire F-16 production line from Texas to India, where TASL will assemble fighters for the IAF. It is to be noted that mere transfer of the production line would not meet the Narendra Modi government's condition to meet 40-50 per cent indigenisation target. To fulfil the condition of the contract, the Lockheed Martin F-16 vendor chain will further have to transfer a major amount of production to Indian partners.

Lockheed Martin in association with TASL started the three-day "Suppliers Conference" inaugurated in New Delhi on Tuesday, which will bring together the F-16's existing "Tier-1 vendors" (which build large F-16 systems) with potential Indian industry partners. The conference will hold 540 "business-to-business" meetings for these vendors to shortlist Indian companies.

More than 20 F-16 vendors including world's major aerospace and defence firms: BAE Systems, Cobham, Collins Aerospace, Curtiss-Wright, Eaton, Elbit Systems, Elta, GE Aviation, Honeywell, L3Harris, Leonardo, Martin Baker, Meggitt, Moog, Northrop Grumman, Parker Hannifin, Pratt & Whitney, Rada, Rafael, Raytheon and Safran Electrical & Power would be scouting for more than 70 Indian partners.

The IAF requires at least 42 air squadrons to face a two-front war but the strength these squadrons are depleting quickly. At current levels, the IAF is operating with only 33 squadrons. With Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircrafts getting too old to be continued in service and slow manufacturing of indigenous Tejas aircraft, the IAF is in a desperate situation to maintain its fleet. Further, India planned to buy 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) fighters from France but finally, only 36 fighters were ordered.