Lockheed's F-21 proposal for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition

Lockheed Martin is expecting to bag the $20 billion MMRCA tender for 114 fighter jets to be manufactured in India for the Indian Air Force in the "Make In India" program. However, with an IAF MiG-21 Bison shooting down an F-16 by a relatively low-tech Vympel R-73 short-range air-to-air missile, Lockheed Martin's proposal to build the the "New" F-21  is going to have a snowball's chance in hell.

The old dog MiG-21 still has some juice left in its belly as it shot down a more advanced fighter by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who sadly also went down after he shot down Pakistan F-16 before his MiG-21 was hit. He was presumably under attack by a Pakistani surface-to-air  battery, air-to-air missile or contacting the targeted F-16. The exact reason will be unravelled when Wing Commander Varthaman gives a first hand account of what really transpired in the air during the dogfight. Understandably for Lockheed, there is speculation that this amazing feat by the India ace could tank Lockheed Martin's multi-billion-dollar prospective dream of making the 1970 era (commissioned a decade later than the MiG-21) jets in India.

It is fair to say, that it was a surgical strike on the Lockheed Martin and TATA Advanced Systems joint venture, that it is the first time a 3rd generation fighter has downed a fly by wire modern aircraft armed with a much better weapons package and avionics suite. A deja vu event that brings in reminiscences of the tiny little Folland Gnats shooting down the more advanced American Sabre fighters during the 1965 & 1971 Indo-Pak wars.

Notably, Lockheed Martin displayed its aggressive ambitions for the Indian fighter market earlier this month at the Aero India show where it unveiled a prototype of the F-21, a modified (/spruced up) version of the F-16 Block 70 India specific Viper IN series of the jet.

India started the process of purchasing 114 fighter jets under the Strategic Partnership Program in 2018 and six foreign firms had responded to the request for information. Global majors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the US, Dassault Aviation of France, Europe's, SAAB of Sweden and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation of Russia have evinced interest and submitted their proposals in July 2018.

Mikoyan's MiG-35 joined the race late and the Russians in Bangalore raved about the fighter as the most up-to-date aircraft in the world, that should however be taken with pinch of salt because the MiG-35 itself is a MiG-29 on steroids. However, it is fair to say that the Russian offerings, be it the MiGs or the Sukhois may well be at least 20 per cent cheaper that its western counterparts. MoD planners have the habit of cutting corners and the Russians could well be in the game.

However, Lockheed Martin can take grace from the fact that Indian fighter pilots have time and again proved that "THE BEST PLANE IS THE ONE WITH THE BEST PILOT IN IT". So, the F-21 could well be in the reckoning after all.

Our Bureau