July 4, 2017

Lockheed Martin F 16 carries no improvement potential for India, say IAF veterans

Despite the ovedrive by the US-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, no agreement for the F-16 Block 70/72 production was inked during the recently concluded visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US. Lockheed Martin has offered to move its lone production line of the latest version of fighter aircraft F-16 Block 70/72 to India from Texas to meet Indian and global requirement —with a condition: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has to choose the world’s largest-sold fighter aircraft for its fleet.

Sources told FE, “No decision for the aircraft suitable to meet the immediate needs of the IAF is expected to be taken in the next six months. The Block 70/72 F-16 that is proposed is nothing but the same Block 60 aircraft developed for the UAE air force.

This was the same aircraft that participated in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition to supply 126 multi-role combat aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and was rejected, along with Swedish SAAB ‘Gripen’ in 2011. One of the reasons for the failure of F-16 at the time was that there was no room for any improvements or growth in the aircraft, explained a former fighter pilot who was one of the test pilots involved in trials. Today, the F-16 being offered to India for the IAF has absolutely no growth potential.

“Therefore, we should not buy these obsolete machines for the IAF. If procured, the aircraft will be in service for the next 40 years, which would be old for the air force,” he explained. The F-16 is a 40-year-old air frame; all the upgrades that are possible are already done. There is no room for any more growth. A 40-year-old design does have its limitations that cannot be overlooked. Today, modern fighter designs, whether single or twin engine, have matured — enabled by high technologies such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis — such that these aircraft are highly manoeuvreble and have exceptional dog fight capabilities.

Aided by new technology radars and beyond visual range missiles, these aircraft are super fighters with exceptional dog fight or combat capability. Best examples are Russian Su-30, Su-35, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 & F-35, French ‘Rafale’, and European ‘ Typhoon’, etc. Going for a single-engine-old aircraft, versus a multi-role aircraft for the IAF is a complete no. “Choice of single engine or twin engine does not depend on dog fight issue.

It has more to do with longer range and endurance, higher weapons capability, etc,” explained a former senior IAF officer.

According to Air Marshal M Matheswaran (retd), former deputy chief Integrated Defence Staff, “F-16’s airframe is a third generation design that has outlived its utility. It cannot measure up to even 4th generation aircraft any more, despite all the avionics upgrades. Its components, aggregates, fuel efficiency, life cycle costs, will all be in the 3rd generation.”


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