American Fighters Pushed for Indian Contracts as HAL Eyes Joint Venture for Fifth Generation AMCA Development

Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin have reiterated their sales pitches for their F-18E and F-21 fighters respectively as the Indian-state owned producer, HAL, announced that they are looking to form a joint venture for the development and production of their next generation multirole aircraft – the HAL Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Fifth Gen AMCA concept art (HAL)

Both the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Navy (IN) have requirements for new aircraft to replace aging designs. The IN needs 57 twin engine multirole aircraft to replace its MIG-29Ks, for which Boeing is offering their F-18E. In a recent statement the company confirmed that they had responded to a Request for Information (RFI) from the Indian Navy, adding that:

“The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet…will offer the most contemporary war-fighting capabilities to the Indian Navy while enhancing cooperation between the Indian Navy and US Navy.”

F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet (Boeing)

However, with a recent push by India to increase indigenous military production and a successful landing on a carrier by a Indian designed-and-built Tejas fighter, Boeing face a challenge.

The real prize remains the fighter contract for the IAF, which Boeing are also eyeing. The Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) contract is for 114 aircraft and is expected to be worth at least $18 billion – making it probably the defense deal of the decade.

Such a lucrative contract means that practically every major manufacturer on the planet has issued bids. Initially awarded to Dassault Rafale, that contract was partially cancelled due to issues on producing the aircraft in India.

Now Lockheed Martin (LM) has reasserted their push for selection of their F-21 – a heavily upgraded F-16. Already offering to build the F-21 completely in India, Lockheed Martin India (LMI) has also recently made some very interesting comments in the Indian press on future opportunities that could arise from IAF selection of the F-21.

In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, LMI pointed out that not only would adopting the F-21 put Indian industry at the epicenter of Lockheed Martin’s worldwide maintenance and repair operations for the F-16, but also lay the possibility for Indian acquisition of F-35s in the future.

In the interview, LMI representatives stated:

“Any discussions on the sale of F-35 to India will have to begin at the government-to-government level. However, a partnership on the F-21 with Lockheed Martin…offers the Indian Air Force the clearest pathway to the F-35 in the future.”

These comments came the day after HAL’s chairman and managing director, R. Madhavan, said that the next phase of the AMCA programme will be to integrate a private-sector firm into the process through a joint venture.

With Lockheed Martin having more experience than any other manufacturer in the world with 5th generation fighter aircraft, it would seem the company may be the ideal partner for HAL in the development of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) – with the F-21’s adoption being a proviso.

Overt Defense reached out to Lockheed Martin to ask if the company had an interest in being part of the AMCA project and that if they did would selection of the F-21 be an important consideration. At the time of publication the company has not responded to our questions.