On Feb. 20 at Aero India 2019, Lockheed Martin announced the “F-21” as the proposed aircraft for the Indian Air Force’s fighter aircraft competition. The F-21 replaces the “F-16” nomenclature for India – specifically configured for the Indian Air Force to satisfy their unique operational and industrial requirements.
Lockheed Martin explains that it has a history of collaborative manufacturing unique F-16 derivative aircraft for countries such as F-2 for Japan. The F-21 is another similar effort with India. According to company officials the F-16 program will continue with active F-16 production, upgrades and sustainment, regardless of whether or not the Indian Air Force ultimately selects the F-21.
F-21 vs. F-16 Block 70
The F-21 is based on the F-16 Block 70 configuration—APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, new mission computer and cockpit displays, airframe, etc.—in development for several other countries.
Operationally, the F-21 and F-16 Block 70 are similar. Both aircraft have the same AESA radar, mission computer, engine and overall aerodynamic performance. The F-21 also features several other Indian Air Force-specific systems being evaluated for new production or future upgrade programs and subject to USG approval:
>Large Area Display (LAD), similar to that in the F-35.
>Triple Rail Launcher, which significantly increases the number of air-to-air weapons that can be employed by the F-16.
>Probe Refueling System, which will allow the F-16 to conduct air-to-air refueling from a tanker with a refueling basket.
>Infrared Search & Track (IRST), which will allow the F-16 to detect and track airborne threats with weapon quality accuracy at longer ranges.
The company says that if India selects any or all of these systems, or another F-16 user supports the development of the same system(s), it is expecting they would be made available for new production and possibly for retrofit of current F-16s.
F-21: An Advanced, Scalable Fighter for India
On Feb. 20, 2019, Lockheed Martin unveiled the F-21, a new aircraft designation signifying the company’s proposed aircraft in the Indian Air Force’s fighter aircraft competition. The F-21 is specifically configured for the Indian Air Force the company says, leverages 5th Generation radar and other technologies, and enables unmatched ‘Make in India’ industrial opportunities.
Building on the legacy of the successful F-16, the F-21 incorporates several specific capabilities to address the unique needs of the Indian Air Force. If India selects the F-21, Lockheed Martin will partner with Tata to produce the F-21 in India, for the Indian Air Force.
There is currently no F-16 production in India. LM’s proposal to move production to India is contingent upon India selecting F-21 fighter aircraft offer for the Indian Air Force. The F-21 is specifically configured to meet the Indian Air Force’s unique operational requirements.
F-21 is not proposed to any other customer at this time. Lockheed Martin will produce F-16s in Greenville—for Bahrain, Slovakia and all other international customers—for the foreseeable future. The initial aircraft for India will be produced in Greenville while the factory in India is being built.