US fighter jet maker Lockheed Martin on Thursday said it is ready to manufacture F-16 aircraft in India and supports the ongoing talks between the two countries to set up the first manufacturing facility, which could be one of the largest projects under the 'Make in India' initiative.
"We are ready to manufacture F-16 in India and support the Make in India initiative," Phil Shaw, chief executive of Lockheed Martin India Private Ltd told reporters at the Singapore Airshow 2016. But the American corporation's executive did not commit any time-frame to have the plant operational, saying the group supports the ongoing government-to-government talks. Shaw expressed strong interest in having the F-16 made in India "soon" without elaborating on the time-frame, linking it to the progress of the government-to-government talks.
Currently, Lockheed Martin manufactures one jet a month from its plant in the US and has a series of contracts and joint ventures in India with over 1,000 employees. It has supplied six C130J Super Hercules planes to India in 2011 and will be delivering another six helicopters next year. Industry observers said Lockheed Martin's "wish to manufacture F-16 is based on the strong demand from the Indian armed forces and would want to lower the cost of the planes for exports by using the low-cost capability in India".
"Certainly, Lockheed Martin would want to exploit the engineering skill and low cost capabilities in India and make F-16 very competitive in the fighter jet markets," a well-informed source told PTI. "Both the US government and Lockheed Martin see the advantage of placing a manufacturing base in India and make F-16 affordable for emerging markets," the source said.
The making of F-16, which will be among the largest projects under the Make in India initiative, will be conditional to the Indian government making contractual commitment to buy the fighter jets for its armed forces, said the source. "Washington, in return, would ensure technology transfer to the Indian engineering sector and a huge boost to Indian exports," he said.
If the two government reach an agreement this year or 2017, putting aside all differences on the mega project and the US' move to supply eight F-16 to Pakistan, Lockheed Martin could roll out the first made in India jet in 2019-2020, said the source. Lockheed Martin has already decided on India as its best option for low-cost and highly qualified engineering workforce, and the final go on this is dependent on approval from New Delhi and Washington.
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