F-16 Proposed for India Rebranded as F-21

An imression of the rebranded F-21 intended for the Indian Air Force. Lockheed Martin

LOCKHEED MARTIN has rebranded an updated variant of the F-16IN Block 70 it is offering to the Indian Air Force (IAF) as the F-21.  The new designation was announced by the manufacturer at Aero India 2019 in Yelahanka Air Force Station on the first day of the show, February 20.  The company said that the F-21, which addresses the IAF’s unique requirements, would be produced locally in India jointly by Lockheed Martin and India’s Tata Advanced Systems if the US manufacturer was successful in winning the contract.  Vivek Lall, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics vice president of strategy and business development noted during a press conference that F-21 is a company trademark, not an official US designation, representing a “Fighter for the 21st Century.”  The F-21 designation has been used before by the US Navy and Marine Corps for Israeli Kfirs that were leased in the 1980s for use as aggressors.

Lockheed Martin said the F-21 would provide an unprecedented ‘Make in India’ opportunity, providing opportunities for Indian companies of all sizes and enable suppliers throughout India to establish new business relationships with Lockheed Martin and other industry leaders in the US and around the globe.  The F-21 will be delivered at the most affordable price for India, says the manufacturer, which will use common components and learning from the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II for the new F-16 variant.  It says approximately half of the F-21 and F-16 supply chains are common with the F-22 and F-35.

In its presentation at Aero India, Lockheed Martin gave little detail of how the F-21 differs from earlier proposals to India, although a video showed the cockpit display now has a single large flat panel screen, rather than the three separate digital multi-function displays offered previously.  It also features a large dorsal spine and has a probe-and-drogue refuelling system, which extends from the starboard conformal fuel tank.  The video also showed it carrying three AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) on new weapons pylons, plus chin-mounted Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod and infra-red search and track system.

The type is being pitted against the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, MiG-35 and Saab JAS39E/F Gripen NG for India’s long-running Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition.  The MMRCA programme ultimately seeks to purchase at least 115 fighters for the IAF, potentially worth up to $18 billion.