Lockheed Martin Offers India Exclusive Access To F-21 Fighter Jets
Lockheed Martin’s F-21 fighter jet. (Source: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin Offers India Exclusive Access To F-21 Fighter Jets

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U.S. defence manufacturing firm Lockheed Martin Corp has said it will not sell its newly rolled out F-21 fighter jets to any other country if India places an order for 114 planes, a move aimed at pitching itself ahead of its U.S., European and Russian competitors for the mega deal.

Vivek Lall, vice president (strategy and business development) for Lockheed Martin, said if the firm wins a contract from the Indian Air Force for F-21 fighter jets, then India will also be integrated into the company's global fighter jet ecosystem—a $165 billion dollar market.

According to Lall, the F-21 fighter jet is designed to operate across over 60 air force stations in India; its key aspects include superior engine matrix, electronic warfare system and weapons carrying capacity.

"We will not sell this platform and the configuration to anyone in the world. It is a significant commitment by Lockheed Martin and it shows importance of India and importance of unique requirement India has," Lall said.

Last month, the IAF issued a Request for Information, or initial tender, to acquire 114 fighter jets at a cost of around $18 billion, in a deal billed as one of the world's biggest military procurements in recent years.

The top contenders for the deal include Lockheed's F-21, Boeing's F/A-18, Dassault Aviation's Rafale jets, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG 35 and Saab's Gripen.

Lall said if Lockheed wins the contract, it will not only set up a state-of-the-art F-21 manufacturing facility along with the Tata Group, but will also help India create an ecosystem for overall growth of the country's defence manufacturing sector.

On observation that the F-21 is similar to Lockheed's F-16 Block 70 combat jet, he said such a view is unfair as there are significant differences between the two platforms.

F-21 is different in terms of various aspects including its airframe, weapons capability, engine matrix and availability of engine options.

"As for example, you are now looking at 12,000 hours of service life air frame in F-21 versus 8,000 hours previously (F 16 Block 70). The additional 40 percent weapons carrying capability is new in F-21 which was not there in F-16 Block 70. The electronic warfare system is uniquely developed for India," he added. "Looking from a distance may make it look similar to F-16 Block 70, but it is different.”

Besides having a traditional boom-delivered refuelling facility, the F-21 fighter jet also has a extendable hose-and-drogue refuelling probe.

"This is the only fighter in the world which has both the capability," said Lall, adding the cockpit has a new large area display.

"It is a modern cockpit and has a significant piece of ability to synthesise information. These are unique capabilities that we are not offering to other countries in the world," said the Lockheed executive.

The F-21 fighter jet has a Long-Range Infrared Search and Track, enabling pilots to detect threats with precision and Triple Missile Launcher Adapters allowing it to carry 40 percent more air-to-air weapons.

Without giving any approximate price of each bare-bone aircraft, Lall pitched the F-21 as the most cost-effective compared to competitors—in terms of life-cycle and operational costs.

"If you look at the U.S. government data, the advantage is 30-40 percent in terms of cost effectiveness. This is lower compared to the comparable competitors. If you aggregate with years and years of operations in the life cycle, it is a huge amount of saving for India if it goes ahead with F-21," said Lall.

Lockheed, which has a longstanding relationship of over 25 years with India, unveiled the F-21 during the Aero India show in Bengaluru in February, saying it will address the IAF's unique requirements.

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