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In a surprising move, Lockheed Martin, a premier American Defence company unveiled the F-21 fighter jet at the ongoing Aero India 2019 air show. Aero India is one of the biggest air shows in the world; the biggest in Asia and is a biennial event.
Defence firms, manufacturers of aircraft and various Air Forces and even aerobatic stunt teams use the event to showcase their products and skills and it seems that Lockheed Martin has made the best use of this year's edition.
Lockheed Martin is a global player in the fields of aerospace, defence, security and advanced technologies. It is the manufacturer of the well-known F-16 series of fighter jets and it also builds and supplies the US Air Force with the only two operational Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft in the world - The F-22 Raptor and the F-35 stealth fighter.
Lockheed Martin offered the new F-21 fighter jet to India in a bid to bag the order of $15 Billion (Rs 10,674 crore) for 114 aircraft. The Indian Air Force has a requirement of the said number of aircraft to replace the aging soviet-era jets in its squadrons like the MIG-21 and MIG-27.
This is the second time Lockheed Martin is trying to compete for an Indian Air Force order. The company had earlier fielded the F-16 Block 70 for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft requirement put out by the Indian Air Force.
The F-16 Block 70 was one of the most technologically advanced aircraft, but it lost the deal to its competition which included The Saab Gripen, MIG-35 Fulcrum Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Aviation Rafale.
The Indian Air Force Picked the Rafale but the deal is still embroiled in controversy due to political issues, and the final order for the Rafale now stands at 36 aircraft as opposed to the 100+ aircraft that was proposed initially.
This has again left a huge void in the Indian Air Force as a majority of the existing jet fighters are aging. Hence, the Indian Air Force is once again in the market, looking for fighter aircraft, but the competition is exactly the same as it was a decade ago.
The F-16 is one of the most venerable fighter jets in the world, with over 4,500 aircraft produced till date. The aircraft is in service with the armed forces of 30 countries in the world. Though they are all different in many ways, they are still largely the same aircraft.
Though the F-16 comes loaded with technology, it is still an airframe that is nearly four decades old. Adding to these apprehensions is the fact that even the Pakistan Air Force uses a variant of the F-16. Hence, the Indian Air Force had decided against the purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-16.
Now though Lockheed Martin has played it smart and called it the F-21. In reality, it is the most advanced variant of the F-16 yet and is based upon the F-16 Block 70 that was offered to the Indian Air Force earlier. But Lockheed Martin have said that this is an all-new fighter aircraft.
Vivek Lall, vice president of strategy and business development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics was quoted as saying, "The F-21 is different inside and out. The new designation highlights our commitment to delivering an advanced, scalable fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force that also provides unrivaled industrial opportunities and accelerates closer India-US cooperation on advanced technologies."
What he said makes absolute sense as Lockheed Martin developing a whole new variant specifically keeping in mind the needs and requirements of the Indian Air Force takes dedication.
The company has gone further to say that the 'new' aircraft will be sold only to the Indian Air Force if they bag the deal. The new Lockheed Martin F-21 is also important to the Indian market as it takes the Make In India initiative to the next level.
The condition laid by the government of India for the company that wins the deal of 114 aircraft is that the aircraft would have to be built in India. For the F-21, Lockheed Martin has collaborated with Tata Advanced Systems to build it on Indian soil. Tata Advanced Systems already builds sing sections for F-16 aircraft manufactured in America.
If the Indian Air Force signs the contract for the 114 aircraft, Lockheed Martin will make India its production base for the F-16 series and this includes exporting to other countries. Adding to the advantages of this deal is the fact that the company had briefly put up on its website that the F-21 would be India's road to the F-35 stealth aircraft.
The F-35 is the most advanced aircraft in service today with stealth capabilities and Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities. It is also notably one of two fifth-generation fighter aircraft in service today, the other one being the F-22, also manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Yet another notable fact is that the F-21 uses the same technology as the aforementioned fifth-gen fighters. The company was quoted as saying, "The F-21 has common components and learning from Lockheed Martin's 5th Generation F-22 and F-35 and will share a common supply chain on a variety of components."
Lockheed Martin F-21 Features For Indian Air Force
The Lockheed Martin F-21 features an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, a more modern avionics subsystem, Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System II, Conformal Fuel Tanks, high-volume and high-speed data bus, etc, on the technological front.
On the weapons front, it features a Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar and more advanced weapons. Specific to the F-21 and exclusive to the Indian Air Force is the In-Flight refueling system. It also comes with a towed decoy system.
The F-21 also comes with a wide-angle heads-up display and a large flatscreen avionics display with the option to move around and choose what the screen displays at what time.
Thoughts On Lockheed Martin F-21 Fighter Jet For Indian Air Force
The Indian Air Force already has quite a few technologically superior aircraft like the Sukhoi SU-30 MKI and now the Dassault Rafale. These aircraft however, are few in number. A Majority of the aircraft are still old and aging by the day. It is these aircraft that need replacement as soon as possible, and this is exactly where the Lockheed Martin F-21 comes in.
An order will not be placed anytime soon. It would have to pass through a lot of political and financial battles before the F-21 bags an order from the Indian Air Force. Whatever the process, the outcome certainly seems great for India if an order for the F-21 is placed.