Jharkhand has proposed to play a key role in setting up manufacturing units of US-based F-16 fighter aircraft in India. Chief Minister of Jharkhand Raghubar Das has offered infrastructure to facilitate manufacturing and maintenance units near Jamshedpur in the state.
In the backdrop of the recent accord between American manufacturer of F-16 Fighter Aircraft, Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced System Limited to shift the production line of the fighter aircraft from Fort Worth in USA to India, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand has sent a letter to Chairman of Tata Sons, N. Chandrasekharan expressing his keen desire to provide infrastructure in the State for the purpose. In his letter, the Chief Minister has offered Chakulia and Dhalbhumgarh airfield complex under East Singhbhum district (Jamshedpur) to set up the assembly line and ancillary facilities for the F-16 fighter aircrafts in India. The two airfields were developed during World War II as air bases for the Royal Air Force and US Air Force.
The airport at Chakulia — with two runways of 2.3 km each — and the one at Dalbhumgarh — with two 1.73 km runways – claim to have connectivity with Kolkata, Mumbai, Ranchi and Haldia port through rail and road transport. The Chief Minister has also written a similar letter to the former Chairman of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata to set up the Production Line of F-16 in the State, reminding him about major contributions by his company in the past for the development of Jharkhand.
If sources privy to the CM secretariat at Ranchi are to be believed, the Chief Minister recently held a meeting with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman too to impress upon the US defence giant Lockheed Martin to set up its units in Jharkhand. Acting upon the CM’s request, the Defence Minister is said to have elicited Tatas’ views on the matter.
With a possible objective to bid for the $ 12-billion fighter jet deal that the defence ministry is contemplating, Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) have signed an agreement for the joint production of the F-16 Block 70 fighter jet in India. In the light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ endeavour, foreign aircraft manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Saab of Sweden have been left with no option except to forge tie-ups with Indian partners to obtain order for hundreds of aircraft required by Indian Air Force to replace decades-old Soviet-era fleet. Sweden’s Saab is the other contender that has evinced interests to supply the Indian Air Force, offering to make its Gripen fighter in India.
However, in order to ward off the possible wrath of US President Donald Trump — who has been campaigning against US investments abroad and pressing for creation of jobs in USA instead — Lockheed Martin and Tatas have come out with a press statement that shifting production line to India would still retain jobs in the United States. In a joint statement the firms said, “F-16 production in India supports thousands of Lockheed Martin and F-16 supplier jobs in the U.S., creates new manufacturing jobs in India, and positions Indian industry at the center of the most extensive fighter aircraft supply ecosystem in the world.’ The statement further said ‘This unprecedented F-16 production partnership between the world’s largest defence contractor and India’s premier industrial house provides India the opportunity to produce, operate and export F-16 Block 70 aircraft, the newest and most advanced version of the world’s most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter”.
Lockheed Martin has said that the agreement with TASL was prompted by the past performance of the company while manufacturing airframe components for the C-130J airlifter and the S-92 helicopter. In a press statement, Orlando Carvalho, Executive Vice-President of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, claimed ‘Our partnership significantly strengthens the F-16 ‘Make in India’ offer, creates and maintains numerous new job opportunities in India and the US, and brings the world’s most combat-proven multi-role fighter aircraft to India.”
The US defence giant is, however, believed to be contemplating a major decision to move the production of its F-16 combat jets to India for want of substantial supply orders for the jets from the Pentagon as the US is learnt to have opted for fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike fighters.
To top it all, in view of receiving the accolade for setting up manufacturing units of the world famous F-16 aircraft that serve more than 35 countries with the production of new fleets and upgrading the existing fleet of over 3500 across the world as well, other States are unlikely to lag behind Jharkhand to rope in the defence giants. Telengana and Andhra Pradesh are reported to have initiated talks with the manufacturer and started lobbying in the corridor of powers with their claim to provide the best infrastructure for the production line of the aircrafts in their respective states.
By: Business World
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