According to The Indian Express, the United States has extended an offer to India to jointly produce a line of fighter jets to both enhance military ties as well as provide for India’s frontline fighter fleet shortage. This comes right after the Indian government announced that the MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) deal, originally signed with France’s Dassault Aviation, was, for all intents and purposes, over. Bumps, missteps and poor communication contributed to the downfall of the contract which would have seen a set of Rafales built in France to Indian specifications, while the remaining number of jets to be procured in the deal would be built under license in India. So that means India will soon be back on the market, looking for another multi-role fighter to fulfill its needs for another fifteen to twenty years while it works on developing its own indigenous stealth fighter program and makes the best of the mess that is the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA, the joint Russian-Indian derivative of the PAK FA/T-50 stealth fighter prototype.
Among the many offers tendered to India during the MMRCA competition was one from Lockheed Martin, featuring a heavily-updated version of one of the most successful fighter aircraft in history- the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Designated the F-16IN Super Viper, Lockheed Martin went as far as to call it “the most advanced F-16 ever”.
The integration of fifth-generation technology into the fourth-generation platform is pretty much what makes an already-potent fighter an even more potent air-to-air and air-to-ground killer. Using the Block 60 configuration as the base to work off of, Lockheed Martin added a number of upgrades to beef up the Fighting Falcon into the Super Viper. The most powerful upgrade comes in the form of the AN/APG-80 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar system, which is already in service with the United Arab Emirates’ Block 60 Desert Falcons. The AN/APG-80 gives the pilot incredible situational awareness and the ability to target and track in any weather/atmospheric condition with stunning precision. An infrared search and track (IRST) system, the ability to integrate the Indian Air Force’s Operational Data Link (which allows for interoperability with other Indian fighter/attack/AWACS/support units), an onboard electronic warfare suite from Raytheon, and an upgraded modular mission computer add to the F-16IN’s sizable resume. The cockpit has been redeveloped to an extent, with three color high-definition MFDs (multi-function flight displays) feeding the pilot everything he needs to know, as well as the ability to integrate the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). An updated General Electric F110-132A functions as the sole powerplant, able to output over 32,000 pounds of thrust, and the Super Viper also carries conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) with a built-in fuel probe, designed to mate with the basket/drogue refueling system used by Indian aerial tankers, instead of the boom/receptacle system commonly used by American F-16s.
In terms of producing the fighters themselves, it wouldn’t be the first time the F-16 was built outside the United States. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) was responsible for building over 300 Vipers under license for but the Turkish Air Force and the Egyptian Air Force from the late 1980s onward. Additionally, Korean Aerospace Industries also built a production line for the KF-16, outputting 140 Block 52 Vipers within ten years. Hypothetically, an Indian F-16 line would be the sixth such line in the F-16’s history. The F-16IN was originally eliminated from MMRCA contention in 2011, apparently due to a slower turning rate and diminished agility with conformal fuel tanks loaded. However, given the Fighting Falcon’s track record and combat history, as well as the kickass price tag ($50 million USD/unit) that comes with such a deal (when contrasting it with other comparable fighters sold en masse within the same program parameters), it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Indian Air Force to give Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper another long hard look.