In July, Lockheed Martin announced that it would manufacture the most advanced version of the F-16 fighter aircraft (the Block 70/72) exclusively in India as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “made in India” program. Lockheed Martin will likely co-produce the plane with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, which has a standing partnership with Lockheed Martin to produce other airframes such as the C-130 cargo plane and the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter. The announcement was quickly derided by defense wonks who see the F-16 as an outdated workhorse that is used by India’s adversary, Pakistan. However, the deal could be truly transformative, turning India into an exporter of a fighter aircraft with a truly global market.
The F-16 has many detractors in India. There are those who argue that the United States cannot be trusted, implying that Washington will block the collaboration at some point in the future when India has grown reliant on the system. After all, this is what happened to Pakistan in 1990. Others allege that the true motivation for the deal is greed: Lockheed Martin simply wants to take advantage of a recent surge in tensions between Pakistan and India to sell different versions of the same system to both. And that presents another problem: some reject the plane on the facile grounds that India would not want to fight Pakistan using the same platform as its adversary would use. This concern reveals ignorance of the different versions of the airframe and the avionics, sensors, and munitions packages involved.
Even more sinister, some in India simply cannot fathom that Washington wants India to be a world-class power because they believe (without evidence) that the United States seeks to retain “Pakistan as a regional balancer against India.” For these doubters, there simply must be a negative explanation for the deal, even if they do not know what it is. Perhaps the arrangement is an effort to dump an aged, unwanted platform onto India and stifle India’s efforts to acquire
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