Lockheed Martin has agreed to jointly build F-16 fighter planes equipped with new-generation electronics in India with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd.
The planes are of the Block 70 type, “the newest and most technologically advanced F-16 ever”, it was revealed on Monday.
“The F-16 Block 70 is ideally suited to meet the Indian Air Force’s single-engine fighter needs and this unmatched US-Indian industry partnership directly supports India’s initiative to develop private aerospace and defense manufacturing capacity in India,” said the statement, released on the Paris Air Show’s opening day.
The Indian air force does not currently use F-16s, but industry experts say that local production would be a strong argument in favour of the US plane against its rivals, including French company Dassault’s Rafale, in future procurement decisions.
India in 2016 agreed to buy 36 Rafale combat planes for $8.9 billion.
Accompanying that deal was a partnership agreement between Dassault and India’s Reliance Group and a promise by Dassault to invest about half of the contract’s value in India. The French company recently said it was in talks with India to buy at least 50 more.
India is the world’s top defence importer, conducting a $100-billion upgrade of its Soviet-era military hardware, as border disputes continue with northern and western neighbours, China and Pakistan.
To reduce India’s reliance on expensive imports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for local manufacturing of defence equipment.
Modi’s government has also raised the limit on foreign investment in the defence sector and encouraged tie-ups between foreign and local companies.
The announcement of the collaboration between Lockheed and Tata comes a week prior to Modi’s visit to Washington for talks with US President Donald Trump, who has been putting pressure on American companies to keep production at home.
Lockheed has produced a total of 4,500 units of the F-16 which has been in production since 1978.
Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, a subsidiary of Tata Sons, already runs manufacturing partnerships with several global players, including Boeing, Airbus and Sikorsky.