Will India become main manufacturer of Pakistan's beloved F-16 jets?

Published: January 11, 2017
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File photo of a F-16 jet. PHOTO: PAF

File photo of a F-16 jet. PHOTO: PAF

India, wanting to upgrade its air force with 400 more fighter jets, has many foreign companies vying for its multi-billion dollar manufacturing contract. Boeing and Lockheed Martin from the US, SAAB Group from Sweden and Dassault Aviation from France are all competing to win the production order.

Lockheed Martin, which builds Pakistan’s beloved F-16 fighter jets, has offered to completely shift the manufacturing of this aircraft from Texas to India. The arrangement is subject to India agreeing to buy first 100 F-16s (Block 70-72) – the most advanced version of the fighter jet. “We make it in India, for India and then we make it in India and export to the world. If the initial orders are not there, it might not work for the industry,’’ an official for the Lockheed Martin had stated.

Turkey to modernise Pakistan’s F-16s

The proposed jet – already titled F-16IN – is being offered with a new radar system, stealth detection and threat detection capability. While F-16s in general have a smaller radar cross-section, the new block won’t have stealth capability.

If India chooses F-16s over other options, it could be a blow to Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force has been flying F-16s since the 1980s and though it has other multirole jets in its fleet, F-16s have been a crucial part of the country’s air defence mechanism. With India becoming the main manufacturer of the fighter jet, it could create hindrances for Pakistan to acquire the aircraft and its spare parts if not completely choke the supply.

Good news for Pakistan

India has not yet decided whether it seeks Saab Group’s JAS 39 Gripen or F-16 (Block 70-72) to upgrade its air defence. Given the urgency to modernise the fleet, the Indian Air Force may choose Sweden’s Gripen jets with the objective of customising to its future needs better over widely popular F-16s. The Gripen system will be alien to both Pakistan and China and it will give India a perceived edge over its regional rivals.

Blow to Pakistan? India could become next F-16 hub

Also, even if we assume Lockheed Martin is the victor, India may not have its first F-16IN delivered before 2022. Installation of the plant will take a few months. Then, it takes 36 months to deliver the first units. The total number of units per year depends on the number of assembly lines. Meanwhile, the cumbersome process of hiring and training the local manpower must be taken into account to ensure Modi’s envisaged Make-in-India goal.

Additionally, there’s the Trump factor. Will the next US administration let Lockheed Martin and other mega corporations invest billions of dollars in India and make Americans jobless? Prima facie, US President-elect Donald J Trump has categorically stated that the country was passing through the “greatest jobs theft” in the history of the world by nations such as India, China, Mexico and Singapore. He is already upping the ante for US corporations to stem outward flow of jobs. Carrier, an air-conditioner manufacturer, was the first one to attract the president-elect’s attention against investing in Mexico. Meanwhile, the automobile industry giant received an explicit threat to big border tax on vehicle manufactured at foreign plants. Ford scrapped plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico. If Lockheed Martin relocates F-16 manufacturing to India, over 2,000 Americans will be losing jobs in Fort Worth unless the company manages to absorb them in fledging F-35 program on the same campus.

Trump’s protectionism comes in direct conflict with Modi’s Make-in-India initiative. In Lockheed Martin’s case, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s reclusive policy promises less to the foreign investor while seeking the lion’s share: “self-reliance, indigenisation, technology upgrade and achieving economies of scale including development of capabilities for exports in the defence sector”.

Given these possible dangers, anxiety is soaring high in India with its largest entrepreneurial body – Associated Chambers of Commerce of India – issuing the following statement: “India needs to watch out and must build bridges with the upcoming American administration and assuage concerns about American jobs”.

Lockheed’s prospects ahead

During the Obama tenure, US-India bilateral trade has grown from $19 billion in 2009-2010 to over $120 billion in 2015, say official estimates. Last year, proponents of Make-in-India were hoping to boost the bilateral trade to $500 billion.

India to have ‘eye in the sky’ to spy on Pakistan, China

The country enjoys impressive support on both sides of the isle in Congress as well as Senate. But with Trump in the picture now, it’s obvious that the Obama administration’s emphasis on strengthening partnership with India won’t escape uncontested.

Delhi must be preparing for hard bargains and lobbying in Washington and given these hurdles, it might like to wait for a more suitable time and even more modern fighter aircraft for the Lockheed Martin to produce in India.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul and tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Sodomite
    Jan 11, 2017 - 1:24PM

    Who cares. F-16 are no more front line aircraft. Let India have it. No other country is going to buy these planes. Otherwise Lockheed Martin would produce them in Texas. Recommend

  • xof
    Jan 11, 2017 - 1:26PM

    expertly buying and expertly flying have a big difference. Recommend

  • Desi
    Jan 11, 2017 - 1:32PM

    Pakistan isnt interested in more F-16’s, else Pak would have bought the 8 F-16 last year which created so much disagreement between Pakistan and USA.Recommend

  • Rollin & Trollin
    Jan 11, 2017 - 1:33PM

    Not happening; Big T will never allow it. Recommend

  • Hakim Afghani
    Jan 11, 2017 - 1:47PM

    @Desi:
    Pakistan was so interested to buy it but due to Kabul demands U.S rejected sales of F-16s to Pakistan. Try to read the news properly or google about itt.Recommend

  • Honest Observer
    Jan 11, 2017 - 1:50PM

    I think the headline is misleading as the content of his analysis is excellent and gripping.Recommend

  • Bharatiya Australian
    Jan 11, 2017 - 2:11PM

    Logically Saab Group’s JAS 39 Gripen will win the order. And that will be cracking deal politically, economically & strategically to get the balance right for technological edge and creating more technology & ancillary jobs under Make in India.

    Only time will tell if i loose or win my own bet.Recommend

  • FAZ
    Jan 11, 2017 - 2:30PM

    @Hakim Afghani:
    Your comments are really amusing. US rejected to offer the subsidy amount of 50% and Pakistan had to pay the whole 750mn USD for the deal if Pakistan had agreed to buy them after all. And what were you saying? Kabul’s objections? lolRecommend

  • kamal
    Jan 11, 2017 - 2:36PM

    The important and eye-opening part was not the F-16 manufacture but the growth of US-India trade going from $20b to $120bn in 6 years!! The future defence of countries lies in their economic and international trade prowess. Progress and match that to match in defence and in attracting leading companies including defence to invest. What can we offer to the world in products and services and how open and transparent will be the game changer, CPE or no CPEC.Recommend

  • salman
    Jan 11, 2017 - 3:04PM

    If India goes for F16s than buy buy to Russian jets for India. I then expect Russian Sukhoi making in roads for Pakistan. Though F16 still a very potent and deadly plane, it is still in the stages of being phased out. Russian Su 35s and Chinese J11s will be ideal alternates for PAF until China gets matured with their 5th generation plane (J31).Recommend

  • Lumdheeng
    Jan 11, 2017 - 3:04PM

    @Sodomite Grapes are sour.Recommend

  • Indian_007
    Jan 11, 2017 - 3:12PM

    No we won’t go for F-16. F-18 maybe, regardless of the choice, Indian government intentions are clear. You want a deal? Fine, then manufacture in India or else the deal will go to someone else. In this way our industry will acquire technology and military industry will prosper. Our Navy has already become self reliant where we are building our own ships. In few years we will build submarines too. Recommend

  • curious2
    Jan 11, 2017 - 4:08PM

    Lockheed Martin announced the closure of the F-16 production facility a long time ago. Pakistan was offered the chance be add planes to the last production run but apparently didn’t have the funds to purchase the planes without a subsidy from USA govt (which Congress denied). There is no reason that Trump would object to doing an F-16 deal with India or any other country considered a dependable ally as it would not cost American jobs. Recommend

  • abood
    Jan 11, 2017 - 5:13PM

    Thats good we wilk not buy it.this way we can save a lot instead of buying planes we need to spend on education.Recommend

  • Jamil Doe
    Jan 11, 2017 - 6:11PM

    “Ford scrapped plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico.”

    Only in the imagination of trump supporters.Recommend

  • Bhaijaan
    Jan 11, 2017 - 6:21PM

    Not to worry! You have your sure grip on the world’s best fighter aircraft – JF17. No one can take that away from you though uncharitable comment about that aircraft is that you can’t even sell it for its scrap value to any country except some banana kingdoms in Africa.Recommend

  • Menon
    Jan 11, 2017 - 6:47PM

    Trump will hem and haw and tweet. Without any policy knowledge of any sort, Congress and Senate will prevail.Recommend

  • Shri
    Jan 11, 2017 - 7:14PM

    Either way, India will become stronger. Gripen ot F16 will replace aging MIG 21. Technically, I would prefer Gripen. Recommend

  • 007
    Jan 11, 2017 - 9:01PM

    If Obama was to stay in power for a little longer or had he floated this idea to India earlier, it would have certainly happened. Things have changed now. Donald Trump is against outsourcing and he has made it very clear. Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav
    Jan 11, 2017 - 9:43PM

    @Bhaijaan:
    JF-17, world’s best aircraft manufactured by China but NOT USED by Chinese airforce. Recommend

  • hamza khan
    Jan 11, 2017 - 9:49PM

    @Sodomite:
    agreed, this is not a therat whatsoever to pakistan. firstly, its not going to happen. period. and if it does, pakistan will have moved on to 5th gen platforms courtesy of china. whatever the US gives to india, we know it will not be top of the line. americans are not so stupid. Recommend

  • SuperNeo
    Jan 12, 2017 - 6:10AM

    @Sodomite:
    Grapes are SOUR.Recommend

  • cautious
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:22AM

    @hamza khan:

    pakistan will have moved on to 5th
    gen platforms courtesy of china.
    whatever the US gives to india,

    USA isn’t giving anything to India – Lockheed Martin has offered to move it’s production facility to India if India agrees to purchase 100 F-16’s at full price. Your comment implying Pakistan is going to switch to 5th generation fighters from China sounds great – but you have always been free to buy the best technology from China/Russia … all you ever needed was hard cash but you couldn’t even afford to buy F-16’s at full price. Recommend

  • Iftikhar Ahmed Chaudhry
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:44AM

    Pakistan should not scared of this likely deal between US & India rather it will open new vistas for self-reliance and moving to new markets which are producing more sophisticated jet fighters like SU-35 and Chinese JFs serios.Recommend

  • Raj - USA
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:55AM

    It would be best for India to go for F-16. China is the real threat to India and India is upgrading its airfare to face off threats from China. Pakistan is not of any concern to India. Equally or more important point to consider is if India goes for F-16, USA will be behind India in case of any conflict or threat from China. No other country can do this. Also, no other country in the world can or has the potential to increase trade or offer technologies as US can. Other fighter jets may or may not be superior to F-16 but F-16’s are more than a match to what China now has. Also, US standing behind India will alone deter China from taking any aggressive action or threaten India. If F-16’s are manufactured in India, it will give a big boost to India’s advancement in manufacture and technology too. It is only because of USA that India got waivers from NSG and USA is pushing for India’s membership to NSG too. USA and India have various strategic agreements and India should build on it and take it further.Recommend

  • Freedom
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:56AM

    Don’t worry, Trump is coming and he will not let this happen. He wants to keep the jobs in US.Recommend

  • Freedom
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:58AM

    @Hakim Afghani: what else one expects from an unthankful neighbor.Recommend

  • Avtar
    Jan 12, 2017 - 8:19AM

    With the kind of money India wants to spend, a lot of companies will invest. Military aircraft bought by Canada are also done with the understanding that some components will be manufactured in Canada. Pakistan could have bought the F16s last year – only it wanted at a deep discounted price.

    How many should India buy is another issue, these birds become obsolete fairly quickly.Recommend

  • sfn
    Jan 12, 2017 - 9:22AM

    In this whole story the most important part is missed – whats happening to LCA the Tejas ? F-16 or Gripen, anything – where is Tejas ? Recommend

  • Dil se
    Jan 12, 2017 - 4:35PM

    Ok let India get it or not but why no one is coming to pakistan.India is poised to become no 3 Economy in the world its already fastest developing. All want to grab a piece of its market place. Hope pakistan understand this soon.,Recommend

  • Lakhkar Khan
    Jan 12, 2017 - 7:49PM

    @Freedom:

    You wrote: “what else one expects from an unthankful neighbor.”

    Which “UN-thankful” neighbor? You referring to India or Afghanistan?Recommend

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