(This News Article Is Originally Posted on LiveMint)
US aerospace company Lockheed Martin Corp. is open to setting up a maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility in India for F-21 to further sweeten its bid for the 114 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF), its representatives said on Wednesday.
Michael Kelley, vice president, India, Lockheed Martin aeronautics strategy and business development, and Brett Medlin, the F-21 India campaign lead, are in the country to hold talks with government and IAF officials on the multibillion-dollar deal. This comes against the backdrop of India planning to procure 114 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the air force.
Lockheed is competing with Boeing’s F-18, Swedish SAAB’s Gripen, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon, and MiG-35 of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.
Lockheed has already tied up with the Tata group to locally manufacture the aircraft. It had previously promised to shift its production line to India if it secures the MMRCA deal and not sell the F-21 to any other country. “Once you build an airplane and put it together in the country you also know by extension how to take it apart,” Kelley said.
“So you have the fundamental competencies of an MRO once you put the final assembly and checkout capability. If you add to that the ecosystem of the different avionics and subsystems, there will be Indian companies in the supply chain feeding the checkout facilities. So yes, there will definitely be the possibility for MRO. It has got to be competitive because obviously, IAF would want to do the MRO here, but bringing other aircraft to do MRO, Indian industry has got to be competitive in bringing that work here,” Kelley said.
Once an MRO facility is built in India the aircraft need not be taken to the US or other countries where Lockheed has an established MRO unit, according to analysts. “It is, however, unclear if this means that engine overhaul will be done at the Indian facility, considering that Lockheed does not manufacture engines. Another point is that if the F-21 is only offered to India, as Lockheed has said, I am not sure of the economics of the MRO proposal. For instance, how aircraft of other countries can be serviced at the Indian unit,” said a person aware of the matter, seeking anonymity.
Kelley said he was hopeful that India could come up with a decision on procuring the MMRCAs by the first quarter of 2022. When asked how the F-21 would fit in with the requirements of the IAF, which has already procured 36 Rafales from France and has allocated ₹48,000 crores for state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to manufacture 83 Tejas, a light combat aircraft, Medlin said, from an operational perspective, the F-21 complemented both the Tejas and the Rafale.
“If you assess what is the fighter squadron requirement of Indian Air Force, they are operating well below that. If you look at the pace of deliveries of the Tejas versus their requirement, the force structure gap that the IAF has, what the F-21 will provide is help fill that gap of capacity as well as the capability for the IAF,” Medlin said.
The IAF has a squadron strength of 30 against the sanctioned strength of 42, mostly on account of the phase-out of its aging Russian MiG fighter jets.