The US F-16 multirole fighter is one of the most successful and widely operated in the world with 3,000 operational combat aircraft in service in over 25 countries. Experts believe that defence lobbyist want India to buy the F-16s or F-21s as they continue to undermine the indigenous – HAL Tejas.
In Asia, Singapore uses 62 F-16 jets, South Korea has 180 and Japan operates 76 aircraft made jointly by the US and Japanese companies based on F-16 technology. Thailand has 54, Indonesia has 33 and Pakistan has around 40 out of which 32 are believed to be operational. Taiwan operates 142 with another 66 due for shipment by 2026.
Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-16 jets, has been vying hard to get a deal on fighters. Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) has entered in an agreement with Lockheed Martin to join hands to produce the F-16 Block 70 in India.
This could a big boost for the Modi administration promoting its ‘Make in India’ campaign. “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,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
Last year PTI reported that Lockheed Martin said that it won’t sell its newly rolled out F-21 fighter jet to any other country if India places an order for 114 planes, in a move at pitching its specially configured variant of the US Air Force’s upgraded F-16.
“The F-21 addresses the Indian Air Force’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem with the world’s pre-eminent defence company. Lockheed Martin and Tata would produce the F-21 in India, for India,” a Lockheed statement said.
This is seen as a danger that the defence import lobby will kill the indigenous Tejas. Rakesh Krishnan, a New Zealand-based defence and foreign affairs analyst, argued that if New Delhi finalises the order of 110 American fighters, with the limited share of the defence budget the IAF may not have the cash to splurge on two separate fighter programmes.
“As long as the air force brass are assured they’ll get sufficient numbers of modern battle-tested F-16s – or any other modern foreign fighter – they may not care what happens to the Tejas.”
Cherian Samuel, a Research Fellow in the Strategic Technologies Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, noted that while these aircraft are cheaper than the other European manufactured aircraft in the fray, there are many limitations imposed by US laws and regulations governing the export of sensitive technologies that reduce the capabilities of the aircraft on offer.
“While these aircraft are cheaper than the other European manufactured aircraft, there are many limitations imposed by US laws and regulations governing the export of sensitive technologies that reduce the capabilities of the aircraft on offer,” he added.
Another factor that experts believe has troubled New Delhi is the sale of F-16s to Pakistan. Samuel claimed that India has objected to the US funding weapons purchases by Pakistan, going up from $700 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2011, purportedly for its counter-insurgency efforts.
These could be well used against India. He further added that this helps Pakistan use its own funds to purchase US arms including F-16s fuelling an arms race in the subcontinent.
During the February 2019 aerial skirmish between India and Pakistan which was seen after the Balakot strike, it was reported that the Indian Air Force lacked an air-to-air missile that could match the AMRAAM, which is believed to have a range of around 100km.
This deficiency of the lack of an air to air missile has now been overcome with the freshly procured Rafale fighters which will be equipped with the deadly Meteor missile. It is believed that the Meteor’s capability is linked to its long-range, which is estimated to be well over 120km. According to MBDA, the pan-European consortium that builds the Meteor, the missile has a large No Escape Zone.
According to the Quint, there is a planned vilification drive against the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft programme while praising Swedish Saab Gripen or the US Lockheed Martin F-16.
An old report in India Today quoting thee Indian Air Force had written that HAL Tejas isn’t enough to protect Indian skies. The response came after the South Block asked the IAF to scrap its plans of acquiring single-engine fighter jets.
The IAF said the Tejas is far behind its competitors like the JAS 39 Gripen manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab and the US-made F-16 manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the site quoted its sources.
Earlier this year, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had given its approval for the acquisition of 83 LCA `Tejas’. “This is a critical step, as the deal has been getting delayed over price issues, as it was on the higher side, according to reports.
According to defence experts talking to EurAsian Times, India must aggressively continue to work on its indigenous Tejas jets, as Indian PM Narendra Modi has vowed and in less than a decade New Delhi might not have the need to import any jets from Russia or France. India must ensure that defence lobbyist pitching western fighters jets are identified, reported and blocked from undermining the Tejas.