Contenders have been narrowed down and it is virtually final round between F-16 and Gripen-E fighter jets and the winner of this round will enter production in India and latest by march this year we will see a winner picked by Defence minister Manohar Parrikar and his team in Ministry of Defence.

Lockheed Martin offered F-16 combat jet is leading the race due to India’s changing strategy military and political compulsion with United States Government. But this is not the first time F-16 has been offered to India, under MMRCA Tender Lockheed had offered F-16IN but this time around Lockheed has offered F-16V which when it enters production will be designated Block 70/72, No no both are not the same, let me explain.

F-16IN offered to India under MMRCA tender was baseline F-16 Block 50/52 Plus with UAE’s F-16 Block-60 Avionics. Lockheed had flown in India for trials and for Aero India, F-16 Block-60 operated by United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) which was then the most advanced F-16 ever produced by Lockheed for any operator.

F-16 Block-60 was heavily customised as per UAEAF requirements and was also fully funded up to the tune of $3 Billion by United Arab Emirates Government which also brought got them exclusive export Royalties if it were ever exported to another customer.

F-16 Block-60 shared baseline airframe with Block-50/52 Plus but it featured in the better avionics and AESA Radar which got UAEAF bragging rights that they operated most Advanced F-16 among all F-16 operators, even better than F-16 fleet operated by USAF and Israel.

F-16 Block-60 was largely known for its Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 Active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar which was first for F-16 and it also featured integrated Northrop Grumman Falcon Edge Electronic Warfare Suite RWR together with the AN/ALQ-165 Self-Protection Jammer.

Block-60 also saw built in FLIR/laser targeting system rather than using a dedicated pod that would occupy a hardpoint, which freed up weaponry load for additional weapons. Block-60 shared same weapons load, support for conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), JHMCS helmet and engines has regular Block-50/52 Plus but Block 60 scored heavily in avionics and Electronic Warfare systems.

F-16V (Viper) was largely born out of South Korean F-16 upgradations program under which existing F-16 operators were offered F-16V configuration which provides relevant combat capabilities in a scalable and at an affordable package.

The core of the F-16V configuration is an APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based avionics subsystem, a large-format, high-resolution display; and a high-volume, high-speed data bus. Operational capabilities are enhanced through.

Basically, V configuration is baseline modernization package which Lockheed Martin wants to offer to its existing customers around the world to increase the commonality and interoperability of F-16 fleets, if F-16V is selected by India, Lockheed Martin will use new airframes to offer the same configuration and will also leverage its existing production facility in India to lure Existing customers for V configuration though their Mid-life upgrade program which no doubt will bring India much needed influx of business opportunity to Indian Defence partners who will be associated with Lockheed Martin in India but also make India their designated spares supply hub for existing F-16 operators .

Now the question arises why Lockheed Martin has dropped plans to offer India F-16 IN and has instead has offered F-16V? , well the simple calculation could be to keep per unit cost of Indian produced F-16 down since F-16IN based on UAE’s Block-60 could have entitled them to some Royalties which could have raised the cost per aircraft and as per media reports Lockheed wants to keep Indian developed per unit cost in range of $50-58 million so that it can go for the kill and bag bigger order which as per Defence minister Manohar parrikar’s own admission can go up to 200 aircraft if they can be produced in India at cheap .

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