Bengaluru. Ahead of the Aero India 2023 which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bengaluru on February 13, US defence major Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Officer (CEO) William Blair said that “it (Aero India) is not only going to be significant for Lockheed Martin but also India.”
The company would be showcasing its F-21 fighter jet, S-92 multi-role helicopter, MH-60R Romeo multi-mission helicopter and anti-tank weapon Javelin, among others, as part of its pitch to test the Indian market and also look for partners in this country with the government focussing on self reliance in defence industry.
Speaking at a media round table conference prior to the start of the five-day 14th edition of Aero-India, known as Asia’s largest aerospace exhibition, Blair said that Lockheed Martin “is here to bring our best capabilities. We are here for India and produce for India and that is our strategy.”
With almost all leading aerospace companies around the world attending this major event on India’s defence calendar at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka, in a total area of around 35,000 sq metres, Lockheed Martin has been pitching its F-21 aircraft as the best option in the Indian Air Force’s hunt for 114 combat jets.
The company said it would launch a Heavy Maintenance Repair Centre in India which would be the first of its kind in Asia and the third in the world after the US and Canada. This will be specifically designed for the maintenance and repair of the C-130J ecosystem across the globe.
Blair said the company was in talks with ISRO and space startups in India for expanding into the space domain including satellites, sensors, ground stations and mission solutions.
Introducing the F-21, Mike Kelly, Vice President, India Aeronautics, Strategy and Business development said single engine F-21 jet would have the most optimal life cycle cost, lower by 30 per cent and lower carbon footprint compared to the closest twin engines competitors for the IAF besides ensuring the longest ever service life of 12,000 hours.
The fighter wings to be exhibited are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Aerostructures (TLMAL), a joint venture between Tata Advanced Systems (TASL) and Lockheed Martin, which is also the single global source of C-130J empennage assemblies that are installed on the all new Super Hercules aircraft with over 190 deliveries. The fighter wings are made with 74 per cent indigenisation, integrating over 70 Indian suppliers.
The company said it will showcase its vast range of advanced defence capabilities and solutions at Aero-India and the exhibits will include the F-21 fighter aircraft, C-130J transport aircraft, MH-60R ‘Romeo’ multi-mission helicopter, Javelin weapon system, and S-92 multi-role helicopter, among others.
“We are excited to participate at Aero-India 2023 to showcase our advanced capabilities and address our customers’ biggest challenges for the 21st century,” Blair, chief executive, Lockheed Martin India Private Ltd said.
The top executive said Lockheed’s focus in the country would be to create opportunities for the local industry to feed into the global supply chain and manufacture in “India, for India and for the world”.
He said the American company has well over 300 suppliers and over 100 MSMES in India as part of its global supply chain and it is part of the company’s aim to bring its capability system to India and also help the Indian Air Force build a platform.
“We continue to strengthen and grow our presence and partnerships in India for strategic security and greater self-reliance in the defence sector,” he said. “We have a high degree of confidence in the manufacturing and technical capabilities of the Indian industry which is reflected through our two joint ventures and multiple associations with public and private companies of all sizes, including MSMEs,” Blair added.
Underlining that it’s bullish on Indian Air Force’s proposed Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) programme, Lockheed Martin says it has already invested in India and its F-21 aircraft fits perfectly between the indigenous light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and the heavier lot of Rafale and the Su-30 MKIs.
“We hope for AON (Acceptance of Necessity) and an RFP (Request for Proposal) for MRFA. We have been aligned and positioning for that for a number of years to bring the best capability that we can offer,” Blair said.
Lockheed Martin, which had been hard-selling its latest variant of the F-16, known as Block 70, pitched the F-21 for the IAF programme in 2019.
The pitch came on the back of IAF’s RFI, or a request for information, in 2018 after its previous bid to procure 126 fighter jets was scrapped, with the Narendra Modi government instead opting for 36 Rafale fighters in fly-away condition.
Blair said that his F-21, which will be competing with several other fighters, including the Rafale and American firm Boeing’s F-15 EX, fits in very well with the MRFA requirements.
“We have been interfacing with the IAF for a number of years. We understand the requirements and the F-21 has a very unique capability with a triple missile launcher adapter and lower life cycle cost,” he said.
Asked how the single-engine fighter fits in when India already has the Tejas, he said it fits in between the LCA and the heavier and larger twin-engine fighters.
“It actually fits very well and it’s available. It’s something that can be delivered in parallel to the long-term programmes (India’s indigenous programme),” he said.
“It has unmatched capability in terms of capability to cost ratio. India operates the light, medium and heavier combat aircraft, both single and twin engine and the F-21 fits in perfectly,” he said.
The company said the prime attraction at the Lockheed Martin booth will be the F-21 fighter aircraft cockpit demonstrator. It said the F-21 jet, which is on offer to the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft competition, is configured with the latest sensors and mission avionic systems.
The Indian Navy’s most recent rotary wing acquisition, MH-60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk helicopter, will occupy a prominent place at Lockheed display. The MH-60R is an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) multi-mission helicopter.
The first three MH-60R helicopters were delivered to India in 2021 and are being utilised to train Indian pilots and crew members in the US. In July-August last year, the Indian Navy accepted the delivery of another three helicopters at Kochi International Airport.
A total of 24 MH-60Rs are being delivered to India over the next few years. Lockheed said “world’s most versatile” one-man portable and platform-employed anti-tank precision weapon system, Javelin, will also be a part of its exhibits at Aero-India.
Using “fire-and-forget” technology, the weapon guides itself to the target, allowing soldiers and platform assets to reposition out of harm’s way once the missile is fired, it said.
“Boosting Lockheed Martin’s presence at the show will be the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft and the S-92 multi-role helicopter, both of which represent a strong legacy of partnership with the Indian defence industry,” the company said.
The Indian Air Force operates 12 C-130Js using the tactical airlifter for a variety of missions. India is also connected to C-130J through Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited, a joint venture, that has the distinction of being the single-global source of C-130J empennage assemblies included on all new Super Hercules aircraft.
All C-130Js now built have major components manufactured in India. Lockheed said its present and future programmes in India range from transport, maritime and fighter aircraft to sea and land-based air and missile defence projects, as well as capabilities in civil sectors, including new and renewable energy.