Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) signed an agreement at the Paris Air Show June 19 formalizing their intent to build the F-16 Block 70 in India if they win that country’s future fighter-jet competition.

The partnership between the U.S. and Indian companies is aimed at meeting India’s twin goals of buying about 150 new, single-engine fighters for its air force and boosting the capacity of its own aerospace/defense industry.

A U.S. Air Force F-16. Photo: Air Force.
A U.S. Air Force F-16. Photo: Air Force.

“Our partnership significantly strengthens the F-16 ‘Make in India’ offer, creates and maintains numerous new job opportunities in India and the U.S., and brings the world’s most combat-proven multi-role fighter aircraft to India,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

The two companies already have experience working together. For example, a Lockheed Martin-TASL joint venture in Hyderabad, India, builds airframe components, including the tail, for Lockheed Martin’s C-130J transport plane.

The Block 70 would be the next production version of the F-16 and the most advanced version of the Fighting Falcon. Enhancements would include the Northrop Grumman [NOC] APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with a new avionics architecture, and structural upgrades to extend the aircraft’s life to 12,000 hours, a 50 percent increase from previous F-16s.

The Block 70 is expected to compete against several other fighters, including the Boeing [BA] F/A-18 Super Hornet and the new Saab Gripen E. The Gripen E flew for the first time June 15 in Sweden.

Lockheed Martin’s announcement came as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to visit Washington, D.C., June 25 and 26 for his first meeting with President Donald Trump. While it is unclear how Trump, a frequent critic of trade deals, views production of an American fighter taking place in another country, Lockheed Martin said it has briefed the Trump administration on its F-16 proposal.

“The government of India is still determining [its fighter] requirements, and discussions are ongoing between the U.S. government and the government of India,” a Lockheed Martin spokesman said. “The details of an F-16 sale to India will ultimately be determined through government-to-government discussions.”

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, is winding down its longtime F-16 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, with the last plane, for Iraq, scheduled for delivery late this year. Over an 18-month period, the company plans to transition the line to Greenville, S.C., to make room for expanding F-35 production in Fort Worth.