Disappointed in India, Boeing and Lockheed Martin Eye Other Fighter Requirements

 - May 9, 2011, 5:04 AM
Boeing and Lockheed Martin are looking toward other competitions for sales of their respective F/A-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft.

U.S. defense contractors eliminated from the $10 billion competition to provide India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) cite several other international programs and competitions as opportunities for their respective platforms. But the start of Japan's F-X contest in April and fighter requirements in countries including Denmark, Malaysia and Brazil did nothing to mask the clear disappointment expressed by U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer and contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, over India’s down-select decision.

The Indian Defence Ministry on April 28 said it had short-listed the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon for the MMRCA requirement, eliminating Boeing’s F/A-18IN Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 as well as the Saab Gripen and Mikoyan MiG-35. Roemer resigned as ambassador to New Delhi the same day, although reportedly his decision predated the down select choice.

Lockheed Martin is contracted to produce the F-16 through mid-2013. Deliveries under the 126-aircraft MMRCA program would have started in 2015 or beyond, extending F-16 production.

“It’s certainly a loss; let´s not sugarcoat it,” said Bill McHenry, Lockheed Martin director of business development for F-16 programs. “We were spending a lot of effort and a lot of time. We took the Indian competition seriously and we were planning on those aircraft.”

Nevertheless, Lockheed Martin is set to provide F-16s under Foreign Military Sales to Iraq and Oman. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in September notified Congress of the Obama administration's intent to sell 18 F-16IQs to Iraq, a sale worth $4.2 billion with associated equipment and services. DSCA notified Congress in August of the intent to sell 18 Block 50/52 F-16s to Oman in a transaction valued at $3.5 billion.

India was the first international competition in which Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was offered. Australia has ordered 24 tandem-seat F/A-18Fs as an interim step to Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II.

“We have work with the U.S. Navy going on that guarantees [Super Hornet] production to 2015,” said a Boeing spokeswoman. Beyond that, she said, Boeing plans to compete for Japan’s F-X requirement, for which bids are due in September, and fighter acquisitions by Brazil, Denmark, Malaysia and unidentified Middle Eastern countries.McHenry said Lockheed Martin is offering either the F-16 or F-35 for many of the same competitions.