NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON: US defence firm Lockheed Martin wants to push ahead with plans to move production of its F-16 combat jets to India, but understands President Donald Trump's administration may want to take a "fresh look" at the proposal.
With no more orders for the F-16 from the Pentagon, Lockheed plans to use its Fort Worth, Texas plant instead to produce the fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that the United States Air Force is transitioning to.
Lockheed would switch F-16 production to India, as long as the Indian government agrees to order hundreds of the planes that its air force desperately needs.
Trump has criticised US companies that have moved manufacturing overseas and which then sell their products back to the US. In his first few weeks in office, he has pushed companies, from automakers to pharmaceutical firms, to produce more in the United States.
In Lockheed's case, however, the plan is to build the F-16 to equip the Indian Air Force, and not sell them back into the United States.
Trump blasts F-35 fighter jet programme cost as 'out of control'
Lockheed said it has been talking to Trump's transition and governance teams as well as the US Congress for several months on its plans, including the proposed sale of F-16 planes to India, a spokesman told Reuters in Washington.
"We've briefed the Administration on the current proposal, which was supported by the Obama Administration as part of a broader cooperative dialogue with the Government of India," the spokesman said.
"We understand that the Trump Administration will want to take a fresh look at some of these programs, and we stand prepared to support that effort to ensure that any deal of this importance is properly aligned with US policy priorities."
India is expected to spend $250 billion on defence modernisation over the next decade, analysts say, and there is concern that a veto on making the F-16 in India would not only hit Lockheed, but also threaten other military contracts to come up in India for Boeing, Northrop and Raytheon.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the plan to build the plane in India.
A person close to Lockheed said company officials did not know what the Trump administration planned to do about the proposal to shift F-16 production to India.
"They're following it closely and talking with the White House. But if they don't move production to India, there's no way they'll get the India contract," the person said.
One argument to be made was that moving to India would preserve some component production in the United States. "Twenty-five percent of something is better than zero percent of nothing," the person said.
No threat to US jobs
Lockheed has said that moving F-16 assembly to India would create 200 engineering jobs in the United States to help support the production line in India.
Will India become main manufacturer of Pakistan's beloved F-16 jets?
It has also said that about 800 workers in the United States making the non-Lockheed parts for the F-16 would keep their jobs if construction shifts to India.
"We are offering to make the F-16 Block-70 aircraft with a local partner in India. This is an offer exclusive to India," Randall L. Howard, head of F-16 business development, told Reuters ahead of India's biggest air show beginning in Bengaluru next week.
In India, the F-16 is up against SAAB's Gripen combat aircraft, which the Swedish firm has also offered to make locally, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi drives a Make-in-India campaign to build a domestic aerospace industry and reduce costly imports.
The Indian government is expected to decide this year on which company will build a single-engine fighter plane, in collaboration with a local partner. A defence official said the process was at a very early stage.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ