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Did India Make An Error By Ignoring US Jets That Boasted Capabilities Of Both F-35 Lightning & F-22 Raptors?

The Lockheed Martin jets for India have been described as the most advanced F-16 variant ever built, incorporating futuristic avionics from the F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor fifth-generation jets.

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US defense giant and the world’s largest aerospace company Lockheed Martin had stated that it is willing to provide F-21 fighters jets to the Indian Air Force which many experts claimed had many capabilities from both F-35s and F-22 Raptors.

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The order, which has been described as one of the world’s largest deals and unofficially called the “MMRCA 2.0” for IAF’s fighter jet requirement.

The Lockheed Martin F-21 jets have been described as the most advanced F-16 variant ever built, incorporating futuristic avionics from the “flying computer” F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor fifth-generation jets. To differentiate the increased performance and capabilities, it was redesignated as “F-21,” as a specialized offering to India.

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The F-16 is currently the world’s most produced and in-service fighter jet, with more than 4,600 airframes built by 2018.

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In a recent interview given to an Indian defense industry-observer website – Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-21 India Program Director Kurt Knust said, “There are a lot of technologies that come into the F-21, including the latest radar on these platforms and the long-range Infra-Red Search and Tracking System.”

The company is also keen to venture with Indian companies to set up domestic production lines and has already partnered with Tata for indigenous manufacturing. “The F-21 is an unprecedented ‘Make in India’ opportunity ─ combining the strength of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, and Tata, India’s premier industrial house, to deliver a historic win-win for the US and India,” the company says.

F-22-RAPTOR

The F-21 also offers network-centric warfare abilities and opens India’s prospects for a future partnership on the F-35. “Not every country in the world is ready today for an F-35. And, that can be either because they from a policy perspective haven’t become that level of partner with the United States yet, or maybe just the maturity of their military: it’s hard to jump from a MiG-21 directly into an F-35,” says JR McDonald, vice-president of business development in Lockheed’s integrated fighter group.

Rahul Bedi a senior journalist and defense analyst had stated that the US has long been yearning to sell the customized F-21s to India which was unveiled at Aero India 2019 in Bangalore.

He writes that little more than a re-branded F-16 that dates back to the mid-1970s, it makes great economic sense from the US viewpoint to ‘sell’ India to license-build this fighter for the IAF to meet its requirement for an additional 114 combat aircraft to make up for the depleted fighter squadrons.

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With F-16s being phased out of the US Air Force, and their plant at Fort Worth in Texas closing down, moving the ageing jets’ manufacturing unit to India, would keep the line going for few more years, while also providing employment opportunities in the US under Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ drive.

Other defense experts and commentators in New Delhi also called the F-21s as the rebranded version of F-16 fighter jets. However, Vivek Lall, former VP Vice-President of Strategy and Business Development of Lockheed Martin had rejected these assertions and stated that if India decides to buy the F-21 jets then the company will not sell them to anyone else and will set up a state-of-the-art F-21 manufacturing facility with Tata Group.

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Lall said that looking from a distance, it may appear that the F-16s and F-21s are similar but in actuality are very different. He said that the F-21  jets had 12,000 hours of service life airframe as against F-16’s 8,000 hours and has completely different airframe, weapons capability, engine matrix, and availability of engine options.

“An F-16 is the perfect pathway to F-35. You gain that familiarity with the United States, you become a reliable partner with the United States, and then the next step into the F-35 is not such a stretch,” Knust had stated.

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