The Buzz

Revealed: India, Pakistan and the Future of the Lethal F-16

Could Lockheed Martin’s iconic F-16 Fighting Falcons one day be rolling out of factories in India?

As it stands right now, the F-16 production line will shut down by the end of 2017 without any further orders—which is one reason the Obama Administration pushed so hard to sell Pakistan eight new Fighting Falcons in recent days. Once that happens, the only active production line at Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant will be for the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

But with the fate of India’s deal to purchase Dassault Rafale fighters from France uncertain, there might be a window of opportunity for American manufacturers to move in for the kill. Boeing had previously expressed interest in producing the advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in India. However, Boeing is not alone—Lockheed, too, is interested in a similar arrangement for the F-16IN Block 60 version of the Fighting Falcon. That’s a configuration similar to the UAE’s F-16E/F Desert Falcon.

Indeed, Lockheed seems to be attempting to seize the opportunity. In a statement to the Indian daily, the Hindu, from Lockheed Martin’s India chief, Phil Shaw, the company said it was “in discussions with the U.S. Government, the Government of India, and our Indian industry partners about potential new production F-16 aircraft to address India’s fighter recapitalization requirements.”

While there are no firm details, according to the Hindu, Lockheed expressed interest in setting up an Indian F-16 production line at the 2016 Singapore air show earlier this year in February. However, setting up an Indian production line would require far deeper military-industrial cooperation between Washington and New Delhi than exists today. The U.S. government has been courting India as means to offset China’s growing influence in the region—so a deal is not outside the realm of possibility.

Boeing’s F/A-18E/F might have an edge over the Fighting Falcon because Pakistan operates versions of the F-16. New Delhi might not want to operate the same type as one of its primary rivals.

The F-16IN with its active electronically scanned array radar—either the APG-80 or perhaps the APG-83—advanced electronic warfare suite, sensor pods and vast array of weapons would be amongst the most capable versions of the Viper ever built. The aircraft supplied to Pakistan are not exactly top of the line—featuring mechanically scanned APG-68 radars and older avionics, due in part to the potential for technology loss (Islamabad is closely aligned with Beijing). Nonetheless, the Super Hornet—which also comes in the EA-18G Growler electronic attack variant—might prove to be a more attractive option.

New Delhi has a track record of failed acquisitions programs—indeed, the long running effort to recapitalize the Indian Air Force is but one example. It is entirely possible that New Delhi could bungle a potential deal with Boeing, Lockheed Martin—or Eurofighter, should Airbus want to take another shot at the Indian market. In that case, the Indians might be better served continuing production of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. However, either the Super Hornet or F-16 would greatly enhance India’s air warfare capabilities.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Lockheed Martin.