The fighter is in the running for the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender floated by the Indian government along with five other contenders.
The F-16IN Super Viper, the latest variant that Lockheed Martin is offering India, is considered by some to be a ‘suped-up’ version of a thirty-year-old aircraft. But Lockheed Martin’s John Giese rubbishes the idea.“It’s the ultimate fourth generation fighter, in terms of safety, reliability and low lifecycle cost. It’s got an AESA radar, glass cockpit, a net-centric warfare capability and a large payload. It may kinda look like an F-16, but it’s a whole new aircraft,” he says, putting down that particular criticism.
He points out the experience Lockheed Martin has with cutting-edge fighter aircraft design. “The F-16IN has the attributes of a fifth generation aircraft. Lockheed Martin is the only company to have actually designed and manufactured fifth generation aircraft – the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Other companies keep talking about the future. They talk about what they’re going to be design and build. We have it. We’ve already done it.” And the talk of experience has weight behind it. The F-16 has over 400,000 combat hours, the most air-to-air victories (72-0), more than 100,000 combat missions, over 2,200,000 kilograms of ordinance delivered in combat and over a million operational sorties in the War on Terror.
Responding to other criticism that offering the F-16IN to India, when it already had more advanced fifth generation aircraft, would cut into the market for fifth generation aircraft, Giese said, “Selling a fifth generation aircraft is going to be a government-to-government exercise. By offering the Super Viper to the IAF we’re offering exactly what they asked for in the tender. The IN is designed to meet IAF specifications.”
Would a deal for the Super Viper then help India get a fifth generation aircraft like the F-35 JSF? “It’s the perfect bridge for the fifth generation F-35, if it were to happen,” says Giese.
There have also been assumptions floating around to the effect that India’s growing relationship with the US, especially after the Indo-US nuclear deal last year would help Lockheed Martin get an edge in the race. But Giese is non-committal, saying, “Sure, we’re excited the two governments are getting closer together. We’re excited to be here. But that is again a government-to-government issue.”
When asked about a possible delivery schedule were the Super Viper to win the contract, Giese says, “The delivery schedule is part of the RFP. It’s part of the requirements of the tender. And we’re matching the delivery schedule which is one of the criteria that the RFP requires.
And while Lockheed Martin does offer licensed production in India, transfer of technology would be subject to the approval of the US government, says Giese. “That’s a government to government issue again.”
The IAF’s fleet of aircraft has generally had Russian parentage. But Giese is not worried about a mismatch. “There may be some minor changes, like in the radio. But overall, the F-16IN could fit into the IAF fleet without any problems,” says Giese.
Even when the Russian MiG-35, a competitor thought to be something with which IAF pilots would already be familiar, is mentioned Giese remains upbeat. “We understand the competition. This is going to be a tough competition. The IAF has set tough terms and it deserves the best aircraft available.”