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SOURCE:  SHIVA MUDGIL / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

The US government has been pushing India to place an order for their soon to be out of production F-21 aircraft also known as an F-16V fighter jet. F-21 has been pushed to India has an low-cost alternative which features F-35 technology in terms of avionics and sensors and will be exclusively Made, locally in India if it gets the deal for 114 units of fighter aircraft from the Indian air force.

While there is no official figure out by the Indian budget for the tender to buy 114 fighter aircraft, but by judging by the recent sale of F-16V to the new customer it is expected that American fighters will have a much more hefty price tag, due to lack of exposure of American jets in IAF fleet.

Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) filing rates given for the Lockheed Martin F-16V fighters to Bulgaria, stands at $1.67 billion for eight fighters in addition to a broad range of sensors, weapons, training devices, software, training, support, and spares. Since Bulgarian air force is predominately made of Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29, lack of exposure will mean an additional need for infrastructure, local tools, spares training of manpower and if same rates are factored in for Indian deal then the whole ecosystem to operate F-21 fleet by IAF will be close to $24 billion.

It could have been little cheaper for IAF if it already operated any American build fighter aircraft since it would not have required to place separate orders for weapons and other ground support tools and even if India was an existing operator of older blocks of F-16s even then could have been over $17 billion.

There is no data to back that TATA-LM developed F-21 fighter aircraft locally in India will be cheaper than F-16V produced at current Lockheed Martin facilities in the United States. Lockheed Martin wants to make its TATA-LM subsidiary to be major global supply chain of all F-16s operators which has potential to generate orders worth a few more billions and revenue for the country in tax collections, But, there is no data guarantee that the company will be getting more orders for aging F-16V from its current operators, most of them which are already making transaction to the latest F-35 offering from the same company. It is also a fact that F-16 aircraft being the second highest produced fighter aircraft in the history after Mig-21. there exists plenty of used F-16s around which will be mothballed to be used as spare support by other operators.

While USAF plans to maintain a fleet of 300 F-16s till 2048, which has been peddled by TATA-LM in India as proof that fighter aircraft is technologically still relevant and will be in operation for next 30 years, it is also a fact that USAF has decided to maintain them due to budgetary problems with the F-35A program and mostly will limit them to flying in United States airbase only, due to pressure from local politicians who want to keep local supply line for the F-16s fleet running to keep local jobs.

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