The F-16 provides unmatched opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes, including MSMEs and suppliers throughout India, to establish new business relationships with Lockheed Martin, Tata and the other US and global industry leaders, says Dr Lall.
Besides actively supporting all the major intiatives including Made in India, Skill India, Digital India and others, the US aerospace giant US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin in addition to the F-16 fighters and MH-60R helicopter is ready to offer other helicopter platforms that could meet the needs of the Indian Navy and new missile technologies for all three services.
Dr Vivek Lall a world renowned aerospace scientist, is currently Vice President of Strategy and Business Development, at Lockheed Martin. He has been commended by several US Presidents in his career as well as other world leaders. The only US India bilateral Chamber of Commerce last month awarded him the Outstanding Leader of the Decade award for his contributions to both nations.
Following are excerpts from an interaction with Dr Lall by Huma Siddiqui-
Recently, the company had a four-day supplier conference in Bengaluru where many of your US suppliers were present. What exactly is the company’s strategy with the Indian supply chain?
The F-16 provides unmatched opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes, including Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and suppliers throughout India, to establish new business relationships with Lockheed Martin, Tata and the other US and global industry leaders. Current F-16 industry partners include GE, Terma, Honeywell, Fokker, Israeli Aerospace Industries, Elbit, UTC, Terma, Eaton, Moog, Parker, and other global defence industry leaders. We’ve had productive and positive discussions with a number of Indian companies and we are continuing to engage with the Indian industry about potential F-16 opportunities.
Regardless of whether India buys the F-16s, the company is going ahead with the production of the wings for the aircraft in India. Why?
This is a strategic business decision that reflects the value of our partnerships with India and the confidence we have in Tata. Producing F-16 wings in India will strengthen the company’s strategic partnership with Tata and support ‘Make in India’ initiatives. Our F-16 proposal to India and our decision to build all F-16 wings in India are natural next steps that build on our successful partnerships with Tata on the C-130J air-lifter and S-92 helicopter.
What technologies according to you will be relevant to both India and the US in the future and how can the company help?
For more than 25 years, Lockheed Martin has been committed to building trust, technology development, and strategic collaboration with India. We are currently engaged in dialogue with all three services regarding capabilities that we can offer to India. In addition to the F-16 and MH-60R, there are several other helicopter platforms that we feel meet the needs of the Indian Navy as well as some of our maritime combat system capabilities and missile technologies for all three services. We are also active supporters of numerous Government of India initiatives including Make in India, Start-up India, Skills India, Digital India, and others.
With the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)in place, do you think the company would be in a position to share more capabilities in order to make the F-16 more attractive to India?
It would be inappropriate for us to comment on specific US or Indian government policies, but we view this as a very positive development. COMCASA enables the Indian military to access the high-end, encrypted communication equipment used on US military platforms, including C-130J aircraft operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The IAF operates a fleet of 11 C-130J-30 Super Hercules—the most proven and versatile airlifter in the world. The C-130J represents a legacy of partnership between the IAF, Lockheed Martin and the US.
The Request for Information (RfI) for the fighter aircraft issued by India is seeking specific weapons to be integrated into the aircraft. Which weapons are on offer with F-16s and will there be any provision to integrate Indian missiles on the platform?
We are still awaiting formal requirements from the IAF, which will drive further government-to-government discussions regarding the integration of specific weapons systems. That said, the company has more than 36 years of weapons integration experience with the F-16. No other organization can match this weapons integration experience. In concert with the US Air Force and multiple F-16 Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers, Lockheed Martin has certified more than 3,300 carriage and release configurations for greater that 180 weapon and store types.
Besides India which are the other countries interested in buying the F-16s?
The F-16 remains the world’s most successful, combat-proven fighter and there is significant demand for new production F-16s, and F-16 upgrades. We see current F-16 production opportunities totalling more than 400 aircraft. Bahrain recently became our first F-16 Block 70 customer and Slovakia has also selected the Block 70. We are also proposing new Block 70 aircraft for Bulgaria and several other potential customers.
The F16 beat Gripen in Slovakia fighters contest. What are the lessons learnt in that competition that the decision makers should take note of here?
As Slovakia’s Defense Minister Peter Gajdos said at the time, the F-16 Block 70 offer is the “best possible solution” for Slovakia, adding that the US F-16 was better “in all aspects” than the competing offer. This partnership will deliver new capabilities to the Slovak Armed Forces and strengthen Slovakia’s strategic partnership with NATO and the US.
Both the F16 and F18 are fourth generation platforms developed in the 1970’s. F16 won the USAF competition and then F18 became the US Navy platform a few years later. However, the USAF continues to fly F16 even today. What’s so special in this aircraft?
The F-16 Block 70 on offer to India is a completely different animal from earlier editions; Block 70 mission systems are completely new and leverage technologies from the F-35. For example, the F-16 offer includes an operational, combat-proven Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. The advanced APG-83 AESA radar on the F-16 Block 70 provides F-16s with 5th Generation fighter radar capabilities by leveraging hardware and software commonality with F-22 and F-35 AESA radars. This provides a direct long-term benefit from sharing technology refresh capabilities and costs across multiple platforms.
Any update on the company’s discussions with the Indian Ministry of Defence on the helicopters?
Now that India’s procurement options have been opened up to include the MH-60R, we are looking for ways to leverage that active production line to expedite delivery to the Indian Navy. The MH-60R provides a vital capability for the Indian Navy in the Indo-Pacific region. The significant investments made in the MH-60R by the US Navy and industry provide the unique assurance that it has undertaken the most rigorous testing. The US Navy has a robust road map to add capabilities to the MH-60R as the aircraft will be in their fleet for several decades. With over 450 anti-submarine warfare capable Seahawks flying around the world and millions of flight hours, the expertise Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin is able to offer is unmatched.
What are the company’s vision and strategy for the Indian startups?
Lockheed Martin has been a strong supporter of initiatives such as Make in India, Start-up India, Skills India, Digital India, and others. As a part of our larger commitment to support Indian innovation, Lockheed Martin has sponsored and supported the India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) since 2007 in partnership with the Indian Department of Science and Technology, Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas. The IIGP has pioneered an initiative that has supported more than 400 innovators and start-ups with in-depth technology commercialization training and handholding support to commercialize and scale their ventures in India and across the world.
Earlier this month, the company hosted an Aerospace and Defence (A&D) Start-up Supplier Conference in Bengaluru. Tier 1 Lockheed Martin suppliers interacted with Indian Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), government officials, and university students to discuss global partnership opportunities and IIGP initiatives. The conference was a wonderful forum for IIGP (aerospace & defence) startups and Tier 1 suppliers to discuss ideas market access for the startups. Strengthening public-private partnerships in India is a key priority for us.
Have there been any discussions with the MoD about Offsets and have you given any recommendations?
In our experience, offsets have been successful in delivering what the Government of India is looking for. The company has two state-of-the-art manufacturing Joint Venture (JV) investments in India with Tata Advanced Systems. These JVs were created to establish a manufacturing presence in India, support the fulfilment of offset obligations, and contribute to ‘Make in India’ initiatives. The investments related have contributed approximately $100 million in manufacturing equipment, tooling, intellectual property and non-recurring engineering; and more than $200 million in private Indian industry revenues and exports. They have also resulted in the training and employment of over 1,200 individuals in aerospace engineering, manufacturing and management jobs in India.
Is the government keen on getting additional C-130s to replace the AN 32 in the fleet?
It would be more appropriate for the Indian government to address this particular question.
What is Skunk Works? Can you share more details about this?
Skunk Works, now formally known as Advanced Development Programs (ADP), is a division of Lockheed Martin that works on advanced, innovative and secret projects. Since its inception in 1943, the mission of Skunk Works remains unchanged: build the world’s most experimental aircraft and breakthrough technologies in abject secrecy at a pace impossible to rival. Skunk Works is responsible for a number of innovative aircraft designs, including the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Nighthawk, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.
Is there a potential market for the new commercial aircraft 100 J in India?
The LM-100J commercial freighter is the Super Hercules update to the existing L-100 legacy Hercules commercial aircraft, which Lockheed Martin delivered more than 100 of from 1964-1992. About half of these L-100s are still flown today, operated by and are private and government outfits. From delivering vital supplies to communities devastated by natural disasters to hauling oversized equipment to develop new infrastructure, the commercial L-100s are known for the same workhorse capabilities and unmatched versatility as military C-130s. The LM-100J builds on the traits of the L-100 and offers increased speed, situational awareness, safety, capability and power, while also distinguishing itself as one aircraft that can support 11 different commercial operating requirements. While the LM-100J is a new aircraft, it comes to market with almost 2 million flight hours to its credit, all of which were earned by a fleet of 17 global operators who have flown the Super Hercules in almost every type of mission scenario and environmental conditions imaginable.
The LM-100J can go anywhere to support any requirements. That said, we know the LM-100J would be an ideal asset for commercial operators in India and those looking to operate in and out of the country. We welcome any opportunity to discuss the merits of the LM-100J with operators looking to fly the aircraft in India.
The company is at the cutting edge of hybrid airships. Is there any market for it in India?
Lockheed Martin has invested more than 20 years to develop the Hybrid Airship’s technology, prove its performance and ensure there is compelling economics for various markets who would benefit from using this platform. More than 10 years ago, the team built and flew the technology demonstrator known as the P-791, which successfully demonstrated all the technologies needed to make this real. Since then, the team has completed all required FAA certification planning steps for a new class of aircraft and they are ready to begin construction of the first commercial model and the completion of the FAA Type certification process. Hybrid Airships make it possible to affordably deliver heavy cargo and personnel to remote locations around the world. With unlimited access to isolated locations around the globe, Hybrid Airships safely and sustainably support a wide range of activities in areas with little to no infrastructure.
Is there more scope for improving the defence relations between the two countries?
We are very encouraged by the positive trend we’re seeing in US-India relations, particularly on the defence and security front. As you know, India and the US also recently approved the COMCASA, a landmark military communications and security pact, during the historic US-India “2+2” dialogue in New Delhi. Air force-to-air force relationships are another hallmark of strategic ties and trust between nations. We believe an India-US F-16 partnership would strengthen the strategic relationship between the Indian Air Force and the US Air Force. It would also provide a unique path to closer US-India cooperation on advanced technologies, including but not limited to fighter aircraft.
While we are indeed proposing an exclusive F-16 production line in India, we’re looking to build far more than an aircraft. We aim to build enduring relationships and partnerships with India that strengthen strategic ties and trust between our two great democracies.
Lastly, congratulations on being appointed to the US Federal Aviation Advisory Committee. What does it mean for you as an Indian American?
It is a great honour for me. I would be representing the viewpoints of defence technology organisations in the NextGen Advisory Committee of the Department of Transportation. The committee advises the American government on issues including, but not limited to, NextGen investment priorities, capability deployment timing, equipage incentives, specific technologies, and deployments such as DataComm, National airspace system performance metrics, and airspace design initiatives.