After years of marketing the F-16 Block 70 as its choice for India's fighter program and responding to India's recent Request for Information for 114 fighters, Lockheed Martin has unveiled the F-21 multi-role fighter for India, the company told AIN. Once the AOI and Request for proposal is released, Lockheed Martin will offer the F-21. Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet, Saab's Gripen, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and a Russian aircraft are also contenders.
"This [F-21] is unique for India's requirements in terms of growth capacity, lethality, survivability, and affordability," Vivek Lall, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, told AIN. "Specifically configured for the Indian Air Force, the F-21 provides unmatched '"Make in India" opportunities and strengthens India’s path to an advanced airpower future," said a Lockheed Martin statement. This implies that the company that already has a joint venture for the F-16 wings with Tata Advanced Systems in Hyderabad will be in a position to make aerostructures in India for the F-21, which is based closely on the F-16V.
Lockheed Martin continues to leverage technologies across its portfolio to drive affordability as India continues to be cash-deficient, said a defense official. While Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the change in decision, the official added; "India has not been comfortable with the F-16 as Pakistan uses it too." The F-21 shares some common components and technology with Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation F-22 and F-35, and will share a common supply chain for a variety of components. Approximately half of the F-21 and F-16 supply chains are common with those of the F-22 and F-35.
Lockheed Martin expects around 200 orders for the F-16 globally, having recently received orders from Bahrain and Morocco. Even as India gets more aggressive with its "Make in India" program, the aerostructures built in India could likely be a large potential for offsets if the company wins the bid for the Indian Air Force multi-role fighters.
The re-use of the F-21 designation is something of a surprise. It was previously assigned to the IAI Kfir, 25 of which were leased from Israel between 1985 and 1989 for use as threat aircraft during dissimilar air combat training as part of the adversary program for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The Lockheed Martin re-use is not part of the official Department of Defense designation system, and is said to stand for "Fighter for the 21st Century".