US defense contractor Lockheed Martin has taken further steps to secure a deal which would relocate the manufacture of F-16 fighter jets to India. News of the multi-billion dollar agreement with Indian industry giant Tata Group came as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with US President Donald Trump in Washington on Monday, June 26.
We had a great discussion on a broad range of issues that would deepen our bilateral strategic partnership. pic.twitter.com/Wsn3Ht0JAC— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 27, 2017
A press release issued by both firms stated that India will be able to "produce, operate and export the multi fighter F-16 Block 70 aircraft."
The fighter jet will be exclusively built in India, making the south Asian nation the world's sole F-16 manufacturer, and comes as part of Modi's drive and vision to bolster Indian business dubbed "Make in India."
While the deal is awaiting official endorsement — and it faces stiff competition from rival firms including Sweden-based Saab which builds the Gripen fighter — it would phase out India's 200 Russian-made MiGs which currently form the backbone of India's aviation defenses.
Some defense experts have meanwhile slammed the decision stating that the US is off-loading out-of-date aviation technology onto India. Weapons expert Brahma Chellaney on Twitter asked:
India a dumping ground for obsolete weapon systems? Lockheed Martin signs F-16 deal with Tata. Why Tata? Because they make the noisiest car?— Brahma Chellaney (@Chellaney) June 19, 2017
Many have also asked if the technologically more sophisticated US-made F-35 fighter jet, which can evade air radar, renders the F-16 jet system old technology.
Speaking exclusively to Sputnik, former F-16 Taiwanese fighter pilot Eric Hsu said:
"Your first option should be the F-35… it's invisible to radar and can avoid 'lock down.' "
Now employed as a civil aviation pilot with Taiwanese flag-carrier China Airlines, Hsu added:
"Airplanes are just a vehicle to extend your weapon and your attack range. If your weapons are more advanced it doesn't matter what airplane you fly."
Hsu, formerly based at the Taiwanese Air Force base in Taitung and a keen member of the island's aircraft community, said that much about technology depended on your opponent's capabilities:
"F-16s are old technology, but who is the enemy? If they are more advanced then it becomes old," Hsu told Sputnik.
The F-35 is part of a new round of "fifth generation fighter jets" which includes Russia's PAK-FA as well as China's Chengdu J-20.
Speaking to Reuters news agency in relation to the potential US-India deal MiG General Director Ilia Tarasenko said that his company had been cooperating with India for more than 50 years, providing planes, service and training centers, and remained upbeat about further sales.
"We are not afraid of rivalry with the US in this market," he stated. "On the contrary, we believe that attempts by other players to establish cooperation with this country help us to better understand their needs and better meet them."
He said MiG's new MiG-35 fighter jet was 20 percent cheaper to operate over its lifespan and offered countries capabilities that went beyond those of regular "fourth-generation" planes.