WASHINGTON D.C – In February, Lockheed Martin, the giant US defense company unveiled the allegedly new jet and was offering it to India in response to the Indian Air Force’s RFI (Request For Information) for 110 fighters, worth over $15 billion.
The F-21, in other words, a rebranded F-16, will compete with 7 other aircraft in the IAF bid, more or less the same that competed in an earlier attempt to provide 126 fighter aircraft to the IAF, known as the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), a pretty long and complex program scrapped in 2015 and replaced by a government to government deal with France for the procurement of 36 Rafale jets.
Lockheed Martin is trying to market the aircraft as part of the ‘Make in India’ program and seeks cooperation with Tata (Indian Corporation) to produce the F-21 in India. Although the American MIC (Military-Industrial Complex) giant claims it offers unique opportunities of the “Make in India” program, in reality, India has been successful in domestically producing license-built (primarily Russian and French) weapons for decades, including tanks (Russian T-90s) and fighter jets (Russian Su-30MKI, French Rafale).
According to Lockheed Martin, “the F-21 is specifically configured for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and provides unmatched ‘Make in India’ opportunities and strengthens India’s path to an advanced airpower future.”
“The F-21 is an unprecedented ‘Make in India’ opportunity – combining the strength of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, and Tata, India’s premier industrial house, to deliver a historic win-win for the US and India.”
“In addition to creating thousands of new jobs for Indian industry, F-21 production in India supports thousands of US supplier jobs, including hundreds of US-based Lockheed Martin engineering, program management, sustainment and customer support positions.”
“Lockheed Martin continues to leverage technologies across its portfolio to drive affordability within new and existing platforms and is committed to delivering the F-21 at the most affordable price for India.”
What’s interesting about these claims is that Lockheed Martin insists on “affordability” and “cost savings”, although the company is infamous for its ridiculously expensive weapons programs, production delays, and cost overruns.
The company also claims that F-21 has some F-22 and F-35 DNA.
“The F-21 has common components and learning from Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-22 and F-35 and will share a common supply chain on a variety of components. Approximately half of the F-21 and F-16 supply chains are common with the F-22 and F-35.”
It is unclear why would this rebranded F-16 ever win the competition after being rejected multiple times since the 2015 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) failed bid. The fact that it shares some features with Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation fighters might seem like an advantage at first, but on the other hand, both F-22 and its younger “cousin”, F-35 have been plagued by numerous issues.
Currently, Indian Air Force operates 250 license-built Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole fighters (with 20-30 more on order) which are widely considered the most advanced aircraft in IAF’s inventory. How the F-21 fares in comparison is still unclear, but considering the fact that in February this year, a Pakistani F-16 got shot down by an Indian MiG-21, which first flew 60 years ago, it’s safe to say that Su-30MKI is in no danger.
Although we cannot confirm that Lockheed Martin’s claims of technological superiority are true, there’s one thing we can – they make really great videos.