Vivek Lall, Vice-President (Strategy and Business Development), Lockheed Martin, is hopeful that the F-16 fighter jet programme is going to take off in India even as the company is supporting government-to-government discussions and engaging with Indian companies about F-16 industrial opportunities. In an interview with BusinessLine, Lall elaborated how setting up a production line of these fighter jets in India under the government’s flagship ‘Make in India’ campaign, is going to provide an unprecedented opportunity to redefine its position at the global aerospace ecosystem. Excerpts:

Now that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has gone on record stating that the government will push Tejas for IAF. Do you see it as a setback for F-16 Block 70?

Our proposed F-16 partnership with India stands firm. The F-16 remains the only aircraft programme in this competition with the proven performance and industrial scale to meet India’s operational needs and ‘Make in India’ priorities. No competing aircraft comes close to matching the F-16’s operational effectiveness and industrial success. The F-16 Block 70 is an opportunity for India to redefine its geopolitical, military and industrial power and relationships with the US and other leading nations for generations to come.

The Defence Ministry is expected to soon release a fresh tender that will expand the competition now in the fighter jet project. What will be your next step?

The Indian government has not yet issued formal requirements. We are continuing to support government-to-government discussions and engage with Indian companies about F-16 industrial opportunities. The F-16 provides unmatched manufacturing, sustainment, upgrade and export opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes, including Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises and suppliers throughout India.

Some of the common objections against the F-16s have been that firstly, it is only a refurbished version of the old model while the basic platform remains the same and secondly, it is used by India’s enemy countries…

The F-16 continues to aerodynamically outperform its competitors and advanced technologies are continually integrated into the F-16. Block 70 mission systems are completely new and leverage technologies from the F-35. That combination explains the enduring success of the F-16 program. Till date, 4,588 F-16s have been produced for 27 different countries. A case in point is Bahrain’s recent agreement with the US government to purchase new F-16 Block 70 aircraft for the Royal Bahraini Air Force. Those aircraft will be built at our facility in Greenville, South Carolina.

The unmatched size, scope and export potential of the F-16 puts India at the helm of the world’s largest and most diverse aerospace ecosystem. The F-16 ecosystem includes approximately 3,000 operational F-16s flying today with 25 leading air forces, including the US Air Force, and we see additional F-16 production opportunities totalling more than 400 aircraft if India selects the F-16.

Do you plan to offer F-35 to India and do you think the Indian Air Force needs such a plane?

Any discussions regarding potential new F-35 customers begin at the government-to-government level. It is not our place to speak on behalf of the US government or the Indian government.

How will Lockheed Martin now to leverage its business in India?

While Lockheed Martin is indeed proposing an exclusive F-16 production line in India, we’re looking to build far more than aircraft. We are looking to build trust, new partnerships and capabilities that strengthen India’s economy, national defence and strategic relationship with the US for the next half century and beyond. Lockheed Martin has partnered with India for more than 25 years and we’re eager to strengthen and grow that relationship with long-term, strategic partnerships that achieve ‘Make in India’ objectives and deliver advanced, affordable capabilities that position India for the future.

Are there any plans by Lockheed Martin to make a 100 per cent FDI proposal in India?

We are still awaiting formal requirements from the Government, which will define FDI and related government policies.