Underlining the emergence of India as a major defence customer in the world, US aviation major Lockheed Martin has offered India a new fighter jet, designated F-21. The company made the announcement about its offer at the Aero India show in Bengaluru today. The single-engine fighter plane has been designed specifically for Indian Air Force, in an effort to win the multi-billion deal for fighter planes that India will buy.
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) February 20, 2019
Vice president of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Dr. Vivek Lall said that “the F-21 is different, inside and out. The aircraft is specifically configured for Indian Air Force requirements”. This new offering highlights the company’s commitment to delivering an advanced, scalable fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force that also provides unrivalled industrial opportunities and accelerates closer India-US cooperation on advanced technologies, Lall said.
The company also unveiled a video of the aircraft today.
Lockheed Martin will build the plane in collaboration with Tata Advanced Systems, the company announced. Tata Advanced Systems is already a strategic partner of Lockheed Martin, and wings of F‑16 jets are being made in India under this partnership.
As India’s bid to buy 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) was cancelled in 2015 and the Modi government opted to purchase 36 Rafale jets directly from France as a stop-gap measure, the Indian Air Force has invited Request for Information (RFI) for the purchase of 110 fighter jets. Seven contenders have responded to the RFI, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Russian United Aircraft Corporation’s MiG-35, Su-35, while initially Lockheed Martin had offered the F-16 Falcon jet. Other than the Su-35, the other six were the contenders in the earlier bid for 126 jets too, which was won by Rafale before the deal was cancelled.
As per the RFI for 110 jets, 15% of the aircraft should be delivered in flyaway condition and the rest 85% will have to be manufactured in India by a Strategic Partner.
Although Lockheed Martin has said it is a different aircraft from both outside and inside, and has given it a new name, F‑21 is not a completely new design. The aircraft is most probably an upgraded version of the F‑16V Block 70. The numbering of 21 is significant, as it is just below 22, the number allotted to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, a two-engine fifth generation aircraft used solely by US Air Force. The Raptor cannot be exported outside the USA due to a ban by the federal government to protect its stealth and other hi-tech features. The India specific F21, like the F16V, will share several components of the F22.