BENGALURU: To shake off the Pakistan tag that has throttled its efforts to pitch the F-16 to India, US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin is willing to recast and rebrand its old warhorse as F-21, just for India. The new fighter jet may still be on the drawing board, but Lockheed officials claimed that it was a “completely different” plane, tailored specifically for the Indian Air Force. They also indicated that it could have certain technologies from the F-22 and F-35. Incidentally, the fifth generation F-22 is made specifically for the US Air Force and not sold to any other country.
The F-21, which Lockheed will make with Tata Advanced Systems, will be on offer for bid on India’s requirement of 110 combat aircraft.
“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 preeminent defence company. Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems would produce the F-21 in India, for India,” a statement by the company read.
When asked by ET, Lockheed officials said that there were visible changes in the aircraft, including a new ‘spine’ that is designed to provide more space to get future systems into the jet. The change that has been done is likely to counter the argument that the F-16 had been rejected by the Air Force in the earlier Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft contest on the grounds that the air frame is not capable of integrating future capability expansions.
The renaming will also help Lockheed counter the tag that the F-16 operates with the Pakistani Air Force and is the biggest adversary to the Indian Air Force fighter jets. “It is a new plane, with a triple rain launcher and an Infra-Red Seeking Tracker (IRST). It is being offered only to India and no other nation,” said Randall L Howard, director, business development, Lockheed Martin. Vice President Vivek Lall described the F-21 as a “different animal.”
Though Lockheed has promised that technologies developed from the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets will be integrated into the F-21 on offer, it’s unlikely that the fighter jet will take off unless India selects it. The India-specific enhancements will also happen at a heavy cost that would have to be integrated into the larger project.