Thursday, 21 February 2019

Lockheed Martin unveils “new” F-21 fighter for India: Old wine in new bottle

The poorly conceived move seeks to rebrand the venerable F-16 as a brand new fighter 

By Ajai Shukla
Bengaluru
21st Feb 19

US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has unveiled a “new” fighter, dubbed the F-21, which it intends to offer India, instead of the F-16, in the global contest to sell the Indian Air Force (IAF) 114 fighters.

Launched on Wednesday, the first day of Aero India 2018 in Bengaluru, the F-21 has the tagline “The F-21: Different – Inside and Out”. But in almost every respect – engine, basic airframe and most avionics – it is a slightly improved F-16 Block 60, an aircraft already in service.

In rebranding the F-16 into the F-21, Lockheed Martin appears to have accepted what many have warned it for years: that the IAF would never buy a fighter whose very name is associated across India with the Pakistan Air Force, which has operated the F-16 since the 1980s.

The F-16 also carries the reputation of a dated fighter, having already been in service for four decades. A new F-21 which Lockheed Martin says is “specially configured for the IAF”, would perhaps overcome the reputation of an old-timer.

To be sure, this is not the first time this ploy has been used. Russia Aircraft Corporation (RAC) rebranded its MiG-29 as the MiG-35, and fielded it as a new aircraft in India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contest from 2007-2015.

Lockheed Martin has briefed Business Standard on the improvements in the aircraft, not all of which it says can be revealed due to operational secrecy. However, the airframe remains largely the same, as does the fighter’s engine.

Randy Howard of Lockheed Martin says the changes include a “dorsal fairing” – a rib along the fighter’s spine in which additional equipment can be carried in the future, in order to improve the fighter’s avionic capability. The IAF has not asked for a dorsal fairing, but Howard says it is a “unilateral offer from Lockheed Martin.”

Aerospace experts say there is little to differentiate the F-21 from the F-16 Block 70, which will first enter service in Bahrain, The dorsal fairing, they say, is an attempt to overcome the IAF’s key reason for rejecting the F-16 in the MMRCA contest – that it lacked potential for growth.

“This is a straight marketing play, following the same playbook as the Russians did when they rebranded the MiG-29 as the MiG-35”, says Pushpinder Singh, who publishes the aerospace trade journal, Vayu. 

“Lockheed Martin has basically added a few new features to the F-16 to make the fighter more capable. Even so, this is a rebranding exercise on what remains an improved F-16 fighter”, says Vishnu Som, NDTV’s defence editor.

Incongruously, the US military already has an F-21 fighter, suggesting the rebranding was done in haste. In the late-1980s, the US Navy bought the Israeli Kfir fighter to play the role of “aggressor” (enemy) aircraft in two-sided air exercises. That aircraft was named the F-21.

In unveiling the F-21 fighter, Lockheed Martin stated: “The F-21 addresses the IAF’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft eco-system with the world’s pre-eminent defence company. Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems would produce the F-21 in India, for India.”

Meanwhile, a US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon is carrying out aerobatic displays at Aero India, as are three Boeing F/A-18EF Super Hornets. The Rafale has a high voltage presence, with two flying displays daily.

Swedish company, Saab, which intends to offer the Gripen E in the IAF tender for 114 fighters, is not participating in the flying display, but is displaying a fighter and a cockpit simulator.

The other aircraft in the contest – the Eurofighter and Russia’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi-35 are not being displayed.

On Wednesday, Aero India 2019 also witnessed the “Final Operational Certification” of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). This clears the way for manufacture of another 20 Tejas fighters – the IAF’s second Tejas squadron.

[ENDS]

7 comments:

Pavan Ms said...

Ha ha ha. India can operate a fighter used by the Chinese (Su30), because of different avionics, but are reluctant to do the same with new F16 variant? This has to be the biggest joke.

Anonymous said...

I think you have banned me inspite of my not using any wrong language. So I shall try one last time.

The Tejas was originally scheduled to get IOC in 2008 and FOC in 2010. I read it and remember it well. It has come late, but at least it has come. There is such a shortage of fighters that it is more prudent to order 100+ rather than 40!

Mark 1A and Mark 2 will take years more.

Still India has to become self-sufficient. So this is a good step.

Anonymous said...

This will be the most affordable fighter of the lot. Best buy another 36 Rafale under IGA. Then make 100 of these in India under FMS. We can expect pressure from US on this account. If we buy rafale for Navy under IGA, then local assembly too is possible.
Let MoD not fool anyone, it is simply too incompetent & corrupt to decide in a competitive bidding.

Critical Thinker said...

The IAF should give up on any more Vipers. Whatever budget they have should be used in additional Rafale or Tejas Mk1 FOC purchases. Also crash replacement Sukhoi's should be ordered while the production line at HAL is still active.

Anonymous said...

f-21... will it... change... f-16... association with paki... f-16...

Iz said...

Lock-Mart's F-16 production has ended with the deliveries to Iraq completed. They're trying to sell the Fort Worth factory.
Everybody knows that a Rafale does the job of 3x F-16



+++ "Pavan Ms said... Ha ha ha. India can operate a fighter used by the Chinese (Su30), because of different avionics, but are reluctant to do the same with new F16 variant? This has to be the biggest joke."

=> Actually, China isn't sending terrorists into India...

+++"The Tejas was originally scheduled to get IOC in 2008 and FOC in 2010. I read it and remember it well. It has come late, but at least it has come. There is such a shortage of fighters that it is more prudent to order 100+ rather than 40! Mark 1A and Mark 2 will take years more. "

=>
If the French mods are applied to Tejas (radar, engine, inner fuel, active stealth), Tejas will be better than any F-16, even if it ends with less payload since...The M88/Kaveri K9+ will allow to be pushed to 10-11 missions per 24h for at least a full week and 5-6 daily missions in normal use, just like a Rafale... Intensive use of a F-16 is 4 missions per 24h.
Moreover, F-16 costs about $23k per flying hour... Rafale costs $10-12k and Tejas with M88/K9+ will cost $6k.
RBE2/AESA has already been flight tested on Tejas and approved by DRDO.
The M88/K9+ has already been approved by DRDO and will be flight tested on Tejas in the coming months while the Dassault mods will make Tejas lighter by 500kg (empty weight) and will allow to put 1000L more fuel in and having as much thrust as planned on Tejas Mk2. Mk2 idea came from Saab, applying the Gripen-E recipe : 1m longer fuselage to add 1000L fuel and the F414 replacing F404 to gain thrust. Add these idiots played the EU card, Safran would have made the M88/K9+ for them, no need to create a new aircraft : M88 has 1.08m^3 less volume than F414 and is even a bit more powerful. If decisions are fast-tracked, such Super-Tejas makes Mk2 obsolete and series building can start as soon as 2020!!!!

++++ "This will be the most affordable fighter of the lot."
=> Nope : F-16V flyaway cost was $85M for Iraq. Rafale's flyaway cost for India is $73M

Iz said...

+++ "Best buy another 36 Rafale under IGA. Then make 100 of these in India under FMS. We can expect pressure from US on this account"
=> India already buys C-17, P-8, C-130J, AH-64, CH-47 and M777 and these are way too expensive! An-124 Ruslan costs the half of C-17 with double payload, A400M has near double the C-130J payload for only 20% more price, It'd been waaaaay cheaper to consider license building any serious turboprop or Beriev A-42 would have made more sense than P-8. I'd also have had considered to look at what the Japs could have proposed as a price for Kawasaki P-1. When it comes to AH-64, well, you can get 3x Mi-28N for the same price! Considering the AH-64 price, I'd rather paid this for EC-665 Tiger : at least it's stealth! When it comes to M777, well, it costs the double of a CAESAR self-propelled gun while CAESAR allows metric accuracy with standard shells! No way to achieve this with the US Howitzer without using their... $68k GPS guided shell! CAESAR is sniper artillery and can be moved by C-130 and pallet-dropped at low altitude or air dropped from high altitude since now you can drop up to 27t with 50m accuracy, thanks to guided parachute systems,BTW, great, M777 can be suspended under a CH-47 or MV-22... Well, you could have done the same under a Mi-26! And why buying CH-47 while Mi-26 is better and cheaper?

If Tejas program had delays, it's thanks to USA embargoing of GE F404/F414 engines... On next run of Indian nuke tests, Yankees will do a 10 years embargo again? And take care about their terms of use! Look, India bought an Austin-class amphibious ship... Under terms of sale, INS Jalashwa cannot be used during a war or offensive operation, unless such action is granted by the United States Pentagon!

+++ "Critical Thinker said... The IAF should give up on any more Vipers. Whatever budget they have should be used in additional Rafale or Tejas Mk1 FOC purchases. Also crash replacement Sukhoi's should be ordered while the production line at HAL is still active"
=> This is obvious, moreover, Lockheed refuses ToT and is well known for briberies...
Just think about this too : Lock-Mart NEVER dared to come with F-35 against Rafale in ANY competition where aircraft were tested! ALL sales were done ONLY ON PAPER.

+++ "f-21... will it... change... f-16... association with paki... f-16..."
=> Now we've just seen a MiG-21 Bison shooting down a F-16, well, what is the interest to buy an aircraft that even an outdated MiG-21 can easily shoot down?
Moreover, Indian tax payers has already spent €3.9 billions to have Dassault, Safran, Thales and their subcontractors to settle in India.
Tejas will also use the Rafale's radar and engine. India needs 600 news fighter jets before 2030. At least, the French have started building a factory with Ambani!
It takes 2 years to put up an assembly line and 2 more years to start deliveries.
Moreover, there are already rumours about Pakis considering buying J-10 and J-31.
Rafale has given a hard time to F-22 during all drills they were opposed in... Wth J-20 and J-31 around, only Rafale's 2nd gen. quantum well EO/IRST can detect and shoot down such aircraft before being itself detected.