New Delhi, Feb. 3: Offering to associate India with its cutting-edge fighter-jet project, Lockheed Martin Corporation is seeking to prise open the Indian defence market in the wake of successive military-to-military exercises since last year.
Sanctions imposed by Washington following the 1998 nuclear tests had soured the American military-industrial complex’s relations with Delhi.
Lockheed Martin, whose sales in 2002 is estimated to have been $ 6.2 billion (Rs 30,000 crore), is one of the key companies in the US-defence industrial complex.
It has been associated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space shuttle programmes, including Columbia. It has identified four products with which it wants to do business in India after joint special forces exercises in India signalled the revival of military-to-military ties.
Senior executives of the company, now in the country to attend Aero India — the aircraft show that begins in Bangalore from Wednesday — today said LM was looking to participation from India in their Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project.
The JSF is among the most ambitious combat fighter projects in the world and it represents the largest contract in aviation history, the executives claimed.
Rights to work on the “5th-generation” JSF were won by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics through a stiff competition. Companies from 10 countries, through their governments, are associated with the JSF. Dennys S. Plessas, LM’s vice president, business development initiatives for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said they were in the final stages of tying up with Israel and Singapore. The JSF is now into what is called the SDD — System Development and Demonstration — phase after going through the “conceptual” or first phase.
India is already in talks with Russia to be associated with the development of a 5th generation fighter aircraft. This was announced by the two defence ministers of India and Russia and also reaffirmed at the joint defence council meet last month.
Delhi is usually sceptical about associating with the American military-industrial complex for major projects because it has not found Washington to be diplomatically consistent. In the past, the US has frozen projects mid-stream under sanctions following the nuclear tests of 1998.
“This is one of the most difficult markets for us,” Plessas admitted. “But we see the improvement in India-US military ties over the past year as an encouraging sign.”
Plessas is accompanied by Michael N. Kelley, from Lockheed Martin’s main development facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Speaking after a presentation to the press here, Kelley said he was following up on a visit to India in May last year even as the Indian military was straining to go to war with Pakistan following an attack on the army camp in Kaluchak. At the height of the tensions, Kelley said, he had a 90-minute session with the Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics makes the F-16s, a key element of the Pakistani Air Force. The company is currently servicing an order for 40 F-16s for Pakistan. (The Pakistani Air Force also has the Boeing-manufactured F-15s). The corporation is also putting the F-16s on its shop window for India.
Kelley and his team had also visited the Hindustan Aeronautics facility in Bangalore. This time, Lockheed Martin will again be exploring the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding with HAL.
But it is not yet clear how effective the MoU will be and what shape a business association on combat aircraft can take.
Lockheed Martin has identified for itself possible business opportunities in India for its T-50 Golden Eagle Advanced Jet Trainer — LM claims it is the only supersonic lead-in fighter in the world —, the P3 Orion, a platform for maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare, and the Hercules C-130J, a transporter or, as the Americans call it, “airlift” vehicle.
The Indian defence establishment has already projected demands in these segments publicly. British Aerospace, has said that price negotiations for its Hawk AJT have been completed and it was confident of winning the contract.
The Russian MiG Corporation, too, is pushing its MiG-AT (advanced trainer) and Italy’s Aleania, its Marco. All the players are expected to put up a strong showing at Aero India. The IAF is understood to have a requirement for 66 AJTs, an order that could be in the region of Rs 7000 crore.
Kelly said Lockheed Martin’s production line for the P3 Orions, basically a project of the 1970s, had been closed.
However, there were P3s with the US Navy that were available for sale on a government-to-government contract. The production line for P3s could be re-stared if LM found enough buyers. For India, LM would be willing to enter into an arrangement with HAL. This would have to be in association with other countries to facilitate buyback and make it economically viable.
LM is marketing the Hercules C-130J has an “airlifter” that occupies the segment between the AN-32 — the IAF’s workhorse transporter — and the IL-76, the large transporters used by the IAF to ferry equipment such as tanks.
The C-130J was said to be an advanced version of the C-130, which is from the 1980s. Two Hercules C-130s were involved in India-American special forces basic exercise in Agra last year.