After US defence giant Boeing’s reiteration of its offer of F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets to the Indian Navy, Lockheed Martin, too, has again come forward with its offer of the F-21s for the Indian Air Force.
In an exclusive interview given to The Sunday Guardian, the Vice President and Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin William Blair and the F-21 Campaign leader Brett Medlin talked about the offer again in detail, and also about the F-35 sale to India.
The company officials told that building the fighters in India was a “natural step” for Lockheed, whilst also keeping the Make In India drive of the Government. Lockheed Martin has also joint-ventured with TATA, an Indian industrial giant for setting up F-21 production facilities in the country.
However, the major catch was discussion about sales of the F-35, arguably the “most sophisticated flying machine” or “flying computer” for the Indian Navy or the Indian Air Force. The company majors believed that the purchase of the F-21 will create a pathway for the Indian government for the F-35.
In an earlier statement given by Lockheed Martin’s Vice President for business development – JR McDonald, he also stated the exact same thing with respect to the F-35 sales while talking about commoditizing the F-16V.
According to him, for some nations, the F-16 could serve as a stepping stone to the Lockheed F-35 stealth fighter – sales of which are tightly controlled by the Pentagon and permitted only to the USA’s allies and most-trusted partners.
“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,” he says.
“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.”
However, the F-21 deal also has a deadlock. Experts believe that the procurement of any more foreign single-engine aircraft would hinder the pace of development of the indigenous and highly ambitious Tejas program, for which the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is expecting an order for 83 units of the Mk-1A variants soon.
For India, the LCA program has been carefully nurtured and is seen as a vital stepping stone to the development of future aircraft like the Multirole Tejas Mk-2 (twin-engine version), whose experience gained would enable the defence industry to make the Indian 5th generation dream happen.