Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lockheed reassures India over F-16 fighter

NEW DELHI -- Lockheed Martin said it improved its version of the F16IN Super Viper on offer to India under the country's largest ever combat aircraft tender.

The corporation's tailor-made advanced F-16IN aircraft for the Indian air force has improved electronic scanned array radar, enhanced high-thrust engine and larger weapons inventory.

"The F-16 has a long history of operations around the world," Michael R. Griswold, director of advance development program at Lockheed Martin, told reporters. "The F-16 that we are offering here to India is by no means the end of the line of F-16s. In fact, it represents the beginning of what we think is great future for F-16 in India."

The F-16 Fighting Falcon, originally made by General Dynamics, first flew in 1974 and was inducted into the U.S. Air Force in 1978. In 1993, General Dynamics sold its aircraft manufacturing business to the Lockheed Corp., which became part of Lockheed Martin after a 1995 merger with Martin Marietta.

More than 4,400 of the F-16 aircraft have been built since production was approved in 1976. No units are sold in the United States any more but upgraded versions are available to export customers, such as India and Pakistan.

Air trials in India have finished for the most part and Lockheed also has shown additional features to the Indian air force during laboratory testing. "We had to provide new capability beyond what the F-16 block has," said Griswold.

Lockheed is one of six aircraft manufacturers chasing the $9.5 billion contract for 126 aircraft under the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Competition, known as the MRCA. Up to 20 of the first units will be purchased from overseas manufacturing bases. The rest of the planes must be produced in India through stringent technology transfer agreements.

Delivery will start within 36 months of contract signing and be completed 48 months later.

Also in the running for the MRCA are the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault-Rafale, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, Mikoyan MiG-35 and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

The acquisition is strategically important for India because of its aging jet-fighter fleet.

The air force attained 44 squadrons during the 1980s after acquiring Mirage 2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar aircraft. But many of the air force's older aircraft -- mostly MiG planes including MiG-21 units -- are obsolete with some not airworthy and others lost to accidents. As a result, the country has 32 squadrons, a worry for Indian defense officials as they believe the country's air superiority over Pakistan could be threatened.

The Indian air force phased out the MiG-23MF air-defense interceptor in 2007 and retirements of MiG-23BN ground-attack aircraft began in March 2009. The MiG-23s will be replaced by MRCA winner.

The F-16IN is based on the F-16E/F Block 60 version supplied to the United Arab Emirates and conformal fuel tanks, AN/APG-80 active electronically scanned array radar, GE F110-132A engine with 32,000 pounds of thrust and an electronic warfare suite with infra-red searching and helmet-mounted cueing system.

In April, during an interview in Dallas, Orville Prins, Lockheed's vice president of business development in India, praised the F-16IN version of the F-16 "I can assure you, the Super Viper is much more advanced in all aspects than the F-16s being given to Pakistan," he said.

No comments: