London: Tata Group and American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin today signed an "unprecedented" deal to produce, operate and export the combat-proven F-16 fighters in India, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' plan ahead of his first summit with US President Donald Trump.
Under the deal, Lockheed will shift its Fort Worth, Texas plant to India without directly affecting American jobs, a campaign pledge of Trump who has vowed to put "America First".
The deal announced during the Paris Airshow between Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) and Lockheed Martin is ideally suited to meet Indian Air Force's single-engine fighter needs.
According to defence experts, the Indian Air Force needs around 200 medium weight category aircraft and currently does not operate F-16s. The deal is going to be among the largest projects under the Make in India initiative.
In August last year, Lockheed had offered to move its lone production line the F 16-Block 70 from Texas to India, the world's top defence importer. It, however, had made clear the proposal was "conditional" to Indian Air Force choosing
the fighters for its fleet.
In February this year, Lockheed had said this unique opportunity strengthens the strategic ties between the US and India. Around the same time, the defence major had also said that it has briefed the Trump administration on the deal which was supported by the previous Obama administration as part of a broader cooperative dialogue with India.
The announcement of the deal comes a week ahead of Modi's first bilateral meeting with Trump after the billionaire tycoon became the president of the United States in January.
Modi will be on a two-day visit to the US from June 25. The agreement was signed by Sukaran Singh, CEO of TASL, and George Standridge, vice president of Strategy and Business Development, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons, and Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, were also present.
The two companies said this unmatched US-Indian industry partnership directly supports New Delhi's initiative to develop private aerospace and defence manufacturing capacity in the country under the 'Make in India' initiative.
"This agreement builds on the already established joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Tata and underscores the relationship and commitment between the two companies," said N Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons.
The company said the "unprecedented" F-16 production partnership between the world's largest defence contractor and India's premier industrial house provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter.
F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the US, creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the centre of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world.
"Lockheed Martin is honoured to partner with Indian defence and aerospace leader Tata Advanced Systems Limited on the F-16 programme," said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
"Our partnership significantly strengthens the F-16 'Make In India' offer, creates and maintains numerous new job opportunities in India and the US, and brings the world's most combat-proven multi-role fighter aircraft to India," he said.
The Lockheed Martin-TASL F-16 partnering agreement builds on TASL's proven performance manufacturing airframe components for the C-130J airlifter and the S-92 helicopter.
With more than 4,500 produced and approximately 3,200 operational aircraft worldwide being flown today by 26 countries, the F-16 remains the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter ever produced.
Lockheed Martin claims the F-16 Block 70 is the newest and most technologically advanced F-16 ever offered. And TASL, a Tata Group firm, is focused on providing integrated solutions for Aerospace, Defence and Homeland Security. Last year, India agreed to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets
from France for around USD 8.9 billion.