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F-21 Integrates India Into A $165 Billion Fighter Aircraft Ecosystem

By Anvita Pillai, @Anvitap21,

Added 03 November 2022

In an exclusive interaction with William Blair, Vice President & Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin India, he discusses the company’s India success, the lags in the Indian ecosystem, their fighter jets for Indian A&D space, entry into the newly opened space sector, and more. Excerpts….

Lockheed Martin has had a successful presence in India for over three decades. What have been the key drivers of your success? Can you highlight some of your key achievements during this period?

Lockheed Martin's association with India began in the 1940s when we supplied our Constellation aircraft to India's national airline and the Indian Air Force (IAF). Since then, we have been a committed member of the Indian aerospace and defence industry for over three decades. The company has a strong history of partnership with India and is working to support India's vision of achieving greater self-reliance in defence.

For more than a decade, Lockheed Martin has had two state-of-the-art manufacturing Joint Venture (JV) in India with Tata. The partnership exemplifies the government's ‘Make in India' initiative and supports the growth of India's aerospace and defence ecosystem by manufacturing advanced components for transport, fighter, and rotary-wing aircraft ‒ for meeting India's requirements and for export.

We have supported the requirements of the Indian Armed Forces extensively over the last three decades through several programs and platforms such as the C-130J Super Hercules, MH-60R Romeo helicopter and indigenous Light Specialist Vehicle.

The C-130J program represents a strong legacy of partnership between the US and India. IAF's C-130Js have been used to support a variety of missions over the past few years including humanitarian efforts in the wake of COVID-19, and transportation of relief materials, equipment and personnel in the areas affected during the Assam floods. The IAF has even made history by landing a C-130J at the world's highest landing strip in the Himalayan Mountains (Daulat Beg Oldi), making headlines around the world for achieving such a daunting feat.

MH-60R is the largest program for Lockheed Martin in India in support of the United States Government's foreign military sales. The US Navy has already delivered the first three aircraft to the Indian Navy in 2021, a record 14 months from contract signing, and these aircraft are being utilised to train Indian pilots and crew members in California. In July-August 2022, the US Navy transported to India another three helicopters, which will be initially based at Naval Air Station INS Garuda in Kochi. A total of 24 MH-60Rs will be delivered in the country over the next few years.

Lockheed Martin has also worked with Ashok Leyland to develop the next-generation military vehicle for India and the global market. The vehicle has been field evaluated in various environmental conditions by the Indian customers, and the first lot has been delivered to the IAF. Lockheed Martin's engineering support and the cooperative working relationship with Ashok Leyland were instrumental for the success of the development and production of indigenous equipment - another great example of the ‘Make in India' concept.

Lockheed Martin, in 2020, offered the F-21 for India's exclusive use. Can you give us an update on the F-21 partnership with India? How does it enhance India's defence capabilities?

We are confident that F-21 is the best solution to meet/exceed the IAF's capability needs, provide Make in India industrial opportunities and accelerate India-US cooperation on advanced technologies, including but not limited to fighter aircraft. F-21 integrates India into the world's largest and most successful fighter aircraft ecosystem - a $165 billion market.

Currently, we have on offer the F-21 aircraft for the Indian Air Force's 114 fighter-jet procurement program. This is the most advanced fourth-generation fighter we have ever offered. The F-21 would serve as a force multiplier for the Indian Air Force (IAF) with an unmatched capability-to-cost ratio compared to the competition. In addition, the F-21 is equipped with state-of-the-art systems and sensors that would allow the IAF to detect, track and engage multiple targets in a contested environment.

The current and future state of warfare is and will be around gathering and sharing information across multiple domains (air, space, land, sea and cyber) to make effective warfighting decisions as quickly as possible. The F-21 will be able to integrate across these domains and across Indian services to provide current and future relevance. Our F-21 offer is also ‘Made in India', which addresses the goals of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat' while providing India with an improved security cooperation relationship with the United States. Furthermore, the F-21's industrial offering will put India at the epicentre of the world's largest fighter production and sustainment market creating thousands of new jobs in India.

Between Rafale and Tejas, how does the F-21 fit in? Further, there were some concerns about the F-21 being a refurbished model of the F-16V back then. What are the key differences between the two aircraft?

The F-21 is the perfect complement to India's current fleet in terms of operational performance. The F-21 offered to the Indian Air Force provides a single engine, low life cycle cost platform at a Max Take-Off Weight (MTOW).

Lockheed Martin is leveraging technologies across our entire fighter portfolio - not just backwards (i.e., fifth to the fourth generation) but forward as well (fourth to the fifth generation). In terms of fifth-generation technologies being inserted into the F-21, our advanced active electronically scanned array radar is one example. There are many shared technologies on this radar which have been derived from both the F-22, as well as the F-35. Compared to previous mechanically scanned array radars, the F-21s AESA radar has detection ranges nearly double that of legacy versions. Furthermore, we are offering an advanced cockpit on the F-21 with a Large Area Display. This avionics suite is leveraging both hardware and software from our fifth-generation fighters and will greatly enhance pilots' situational awareness. Additionally, our Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, which was developed and fielded on our F-16, is also included in our F-21 offering and has recently been fielded on the F-35 for which Lockheed Martin received the prestigious Collier Trophy. This game-changing technology detects when the pilot(s) are disoriented or are at risk of losing control and automatically takes control of the aircraft. To date, auto-GCAS has saved 11 pilot lives.

Drones are being extensively promoted in India's defence sector. Does Lockheed plan on entering the domain for India?

Lockheed Martin's unmanned technologies can play a predominant role in modern-day warfare situations. Our portfolio of sophisticated unmanned systems is currently being used for a variety of lifesaving military and commercial applications, and the demand for these capabilities is growing.

In addition, advancements that support autonomous and optionally piloted operations, like Sikorsky's MATRIX™ technology, will change the ways aviators and aircrews execute their missions, assisting when flying with a reduced crew or limited visibility. Matrix is like a virtual second pilot that will help operators fly safely and confidently in dangerous and complex missions. It can leverage full authority flight control inputs for autonomous flight - including take-off, route planning, obstacle avoidance, site selection and landing. The Matrix technology will enable operators to fly more manned missions in adverse weather or restricted visibility, fly missions more effectively in complex and obstacle-rich environments, eliminate sources of pilot and operator error and reduce operating costs.

The technology has been integrated and extensively flight tested on various aircraft, including the S-76B and Black Hawk. The team recently achieved a significant milestone, flying an uncrewed S-70 Black Hawk autonomously for 30 minutes.

Keeping in mind the 30-year-long partnership, what have been some of the key challenges encountered by Lockheed Martin in the Indian market? What kind of support from the government could make the journey ahead smoother, in your opinion?While the overall trend with respect to reform of the Government's defence policies has been encouraging, there is still work that needs to be done to increase the speed of the implementation of these policies for manufacturing world-class A&D products in India at globally competitive costs and quality. Some of the suggestions for further refinements include:

  • Enhancing the project approval process, efficiency and period of discharge of offset obligations
  • Making skill development eligible for defence offset credits
  • Incentivising the industry by giving higher multipliers on capital and equity investments.
  • Allowing tier-1 suppliers to discharge offset obligations on behalf of the foreign OEM for all offset contracts currently under execution
  • Allowing group companies or subsidiaries to discharge offset on behalf of the OEMs
  • Rationalisation of levy of penalties
  • Formulating a pragmatic definition of ‘India Value Addition'

With India's space sector opening up, where does Lockheed Martin fit in? Are there any partnerships with ISRO in the pipeline?

We see a tremendous opportunity to help India realise its space goals. India is a key contributor to the success of the global space community. Lockheed Martin is excited about the developments surrounding India Space, and its willingness to open its facilities to support future cooperation and collaborative efforts within the space domain. We are also expecting closer collaborations with state governments and the creation of working groups with industry to build talent and capability for the country. For us, growth prospects from India are vibrant and multi-dimensional.

Start-ups are turning out to be a very important part of the Indian A&D ecosystem. How is Lockheed working on creating a synergy with the start-ups in India for a much stronger A&D sector?

As a part of our larger commitment to enhancing the growth and development of India's innovation, Lockheed Martin has sponsored and supported the India Innovation Growth Program (IIGP) since 2007. Aimed at developing entrepreneurship in India, IIGP 2.0 is the only public-private partnership of its kind in India that spawns indigenous innovation by training budding innovators in world-class strategies, promoting and providing incubation and acceleration support, and assisting in business development. The program is designed to accelerate the launch of early-stage Indian technologies into the global marketplace. To date, the program has generated over 400 business agreements and $1 billion in revenue for Indian start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Do you think that Make-in-India in defence production is very crucial and not just an option? Subsequently, what factors can make Indian defence manufacturers more competitive considering our geopolitical position?

Among the world's major nations, India stands out for its commitment and ambition to build an indigenous industrial base for defence and aerospace. Prime Minister Modi's call for increasing defence exports to $5 billion in five years is a testament to this commitment and ambition. Much of this will have to happen through the ‘Make in India' vision and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat' abhiyaan for defence, which is both progressive and visionary.

To fulfil the government's vision of making India a defence manufacturing hub, there is a massive opportunity for partnerships between Indian organisations including micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups and foreign OEMs. Integrating MSMEs can help India build a strong and viable indigenous defence industrial capability and reduce dependence on imports. For foreign OEMs, MSMEs are ideal partners for strengthening India's defence ecosystem, increasing aerospace & defence exports and for the cost-effective discharge of offset liabilities.

Foreign OEMs, with their global expertise and capabilities, can provide much-needed support to MSMEs as they look to break into the world of defence manufacturing. This support can extend from sharing technology, access to global supply chains, guidance with manufacturing, among others. The final goal is to go beyond just providing a workshare to building a capable ecosystem on par with global standards - an ecosystem that has MSMEs empowered to execute complex and demanding contracts.

Foreign OEMs, with their global operations, also open a world of opportunities by integrating MSMEs into their supply chains. This provides future business opportunities to MSMEs to benefit not just from the OEM but also from their global networks, building vital capabilities and experience. There is another aspect to the OEM-MSME partnership because of the association with foreign OEMs, MSMEs are upheld to global standards and are required to comply with benchmarks and certifications for which they are constantly counselled and trained. This makes them attractive to the global defence community.

Aatmanirbhar Bharat has been picking up pace in India. Since the import of defence systems has fallen considerably, how is the A&D sector coping with the need to create indigenised systems in India? Where does Lockheed Martin place itself on this journey?India presents a tremendous opportunity for Lockheed Martin to build on our foundation here and expand in multiple domains to meet the customers' needs. India provides us with opportunities to not just partner with the government, public and private sector in modernising the country's armed forces but to also contribute to the country's society and economy.

Through various business programs over the last decade, Lockheed Martin has had the opportunity to work with Indian companies and develop long-term business relationships. The JVs and partners we have established over the last decade have generated value and flowed down to Indian tier 1/2/3 large, MSMEs and start-ups supporting a foundation for the defence and aerospace ecosystem in India. We are fully committed to supporting the Prime Minister's vision of self-reliance through supporting the growth of an indigenous defence manufacturing ecosystem, advancing the aerospace and start-up ecosystem, and strengthening India's strategic security and industrial capabilities.

Our JV with Tata - Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL) - in Hyderabad established over a decade ago produces major aerostructure components for the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. This is the sole supplier of these components to Lockheed Martin and is an integral part of our global supply chain.

Our other JV, Tata Sikorsky Aerospace Limited

(TSAL), also established over a decade ago, manufactures aerospace components for commercial helicopters & aircraft and has expanded to include aircraft engine components for aerospace industry companies as well. It is also fully integrated into the global supply chain.

To date, TLMAL has manufactured and delivered more than 180 C-130J empennages and TSAL has delivered 157 S-92 cabins with over 87 per cent indigenous content.

As a show of commitment that exists in our relationships with our partners in India, Lockheed Martin last year qualified TLMAL to build one of the most technologically complex aerostructures - a fuel-carrying 9G, 12,000 hours, interchangeable/replaceable fighter wing with >70 per cent detail parts indigenously produced.

More than 500 suppliers including over 140 MSMEs feed into these two JVs and have benefited from the vision of Lockheed Martin and Tata working together. At present, more than 70 Indian suppliers have been integrated into Lockheed Martin's global supply chain.

More than $600 million worth of exports have been generated by these JVs and produced over $200 million in Indian industry revenues. Lockheed Martin has invested over $100 million in manufacturing equipment, tooling and IP at these JVs.

What lies in the pipeline for Lockheed Martin for the short and long-term future?

The IAF is currently facing a fighter squadron deficit required to meet its regional security needs. Lockheed Martin has proposed the F-21 as the ideal solution to meet India's capability, force structure, affordability, Make in India and Skill India requirements. Lockheed Martin has an unmatched track record of establishing robust partnerships and defence industrial capabilities across multiple fighter platforms and countries worldwide.

We have been investing in building capability in the country in advance of the fighter jet competition and as a show of confidence in the Indian industry signed MoUs with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to explore industrial opportunities to generate jobs and economic benefits in support of ‘Make in India' and ‘Start-Up India' initiatives, as well as in support of India's air power mission.

Additionally, we are leveraging decades of experience to develop scalable directed energy solutions for military aircraft. Our integrated systems complement kinetic solutions to protect warfighters in the air and on the ground.

Besides this, we are also working on investing in the future of India through educational and skilling efforts that aim to inspire future generations of scientists, technologists and innovators in India and develop the country's workforce.

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