Building last generation F-16 fighter planes is a good deal for India

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies a mission in the skies near Iraq on March 22. The F-16s are from the 35th Fighter Wing "Wild Weasels", Misawa Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby)

At the Paris Air Show, the Tata Group signed a deal with the American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin to build F-16 fighter jets in India. The F-16 is the most successful fighter aircraft currently in service and is being used in 26 countries by their armed forces.

However, some Defence commentators believe that the deal represents Lockheed offloading last generation fighter jets to India. The commentators state that the F-16, updated to Block 70 with the latest aerospace technologies has reached the maximum level of modernization possible. The US itself having moved to the more advanced F-35 aircraft.

Even as the F-16 moves closer to obsolescence, building F-16s in India could prove to be extremely beneficial for the country. Currently India needs to replace 200 ageing MiG-21s and is in the market to purchase single engine planes.

India’s Rafale fighter deal will see the country receive 36 jets from 2019 onwards. In this background, the Indian government has rightly identified that Defence equipment such as fighter jets need to be manufactured domestically to reduce the reliance on foreign arms manufacturers.

Keeping everything in mind, building F-16s perfectly fits into this win-win strategy. Indian Defence manufacturing stands to gain invaluable experience and skills in building world class fighter jets. This in turn will boost development of indigenous jets something like the Chinese have achieved.

Additionally, F-16s currently serve in 26 countries. Demand for components to maintain these expensive aircraft will remain alive for some time. The Indian Defence manufacturers are more than capable to meet this demand and will be instrumental in generating employment for skilled labor in the aeronautical manufacturing sector. As the Indian government continues to market the country as a manufacturing destination, having Defence manufacturing capability could prove India’s manufacturing capability in this crucial sector. The time has come for India to move away from being a purchaser and become a producer instead.

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