Vivek Lall, Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Lockheed Martin has recently been appointed by US President Donald Trump as an advisor to the key federal aviation committee which provides guidance to the US government on the future of the airspace system. Recently, Cambridge (UK) listed him as one of only 2,000 “outstanding scientists” of the 20th century. Lall, a renowned aerospace leader, has played key roles in some of the major defence deals between India and the US. He proposed that setting up F-16 (fighter jet) production line in India will herald a robust ecosystem of aerospace in India. Manish Kumar Jha spoke to Lall on a range of issues including cementing India’s position in the global aerospace ecosystem.
You have has been appointed to a key federal aviation advisory committee by the US President. As an Indian-American, what does this mean to you?
It is a great honour for me. I would be representing the viewpoints of defence technology organisations in the NextGen Advisory Committee of the Department of Transportation. The committee advises the American government on issues including, but not limited to, nextgen investment priorities, capability deployment timing, equipage incentives, specific technologies and deployments such as datacomm, national airspace system performance metrics, and airspace design initiatives.
You said: “There are a lot of technologies that come into the F-16 from F-35 and F-22, including the latest radar on these platforms”, and that “it is a contemporary, state-of-the-art platform”. What are the elements that make it contemporary?
The F-16 Block 70 on offer to India is a completely different animal. Block 70 mission systems are completely new and leverage technologies from the F-35. For example, the F-16 offer includes an operational, combat-proven Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Northrop Grumman’s advanced APG-83 AESA radar on the F-16 Block 70 provides F-16s with fifth Generation fighter radar capabilities by leveraging hardware and software commonality with F-22 and F-35 AESA radars. This provides a direct long term benefit from sharing technology refresh capabilities and costs across multiple platforms. Benefits extend beyond the radar itself as approximately half of the F-16’s supply chain is also common with the fifth Generation F-22 and F-35. Block 70 operational capabilities are enhanced by an advanced datalink, targeting pod and weapons, precision GPS navigation; and the innovative, life-saving automatic ground collision avoidance system (Auto GCAS).
You also talked about the huge export potential of providng over 200 F-16s to the global market if India chooses the aircraft. Could you elaborate on the real-time possibility of doing this in India?
Exports of F-16 could begin within five years of establishing a production line in India. Lockheed Martin has significant experience in setting up such global production facilities and, based on our proven track record, we are confident that once given the go-ahead we will be able to rapidly implement a fully functioning F-16 production line in India. An F-16 selection positions India to benefit from the significant surge in interest in the Block 70, which today includes opportunities totaling more than 200 aircraft in approximately 10 countries outside of India.
India may decide it needs a “high-low mix” of fighters for the various tactical and unconventional situation. With Washington deeply valuing its strategic ties with New Delhi and F-35 poised to become the global standard for multi-role tactical aircraft, could there be a mix of F-16 and F-35 for India?
Any discussions regarding potential new F-35 customers begin at the government-to-government level. It is not our place to speak on behalf of the US government or the government of India. That said, a US-India F-16 partnership would certainly indicate that both countries are prepared to collaborate on advanced defence technologies, including but not limited to fighter aircraft.
Lockheed Martin’s C-130J Super Hercules has been a coveted programme for the Indian defence ecosystem. University-level collaboration has also been initiated with DRDO in India, providing grants. What has been the outcome so far?
The C-130 programme represents a strong legacy of partnership between the US and India. The Super Hercules is also part of India’s C-130J Roll-On/Roll-Off University Design Challenge. Through this initiative, Lockheed Martin provides research grants for teams from Indian universities to work with local industry partners and mentors from India’s DRDO to develop design specifications for proposed modules that could be used on a Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft.
Lockheed Martin continues to actively support numerous initiatives, alongside government of India, promoting innovation and growth in India, including Make in India, Skill India, Startup India and the India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP). We have been a proud sponsor and supporter of the IIGP since 2007 and the IIGP continues to prove itself as a hallmark model of government and industry working hand-in-hand to unleash the power and potential of Indian innovators. The 2018 edition of the IIGP 2.0 was launched on 21 March has already met with early success. Five of the 2017 winners have begun to market their products in India and overseas. Two others have conducted field trials, while three have successfully created a proof of concept and product validation.
Through this experience, can you share your perspective in the context of aviation and defence about the quality of R&D that Indian universities are capable of?
The quality of R&D at Indian universities is world-class and there are indeed tremendous opportunities for universities to play a larger role in further developing India’s aviation and defence future. Indian industry and technology are also playing a key part. We are engaging with these and other stakeholders in India to unleash the potential of Indian innovation.
To boost innovation, design and research in India, what is the model that should be applied? What can the government do more?
Public-private partnerships are a successful model. Having government, industry, academia and others at the table helps align everyone toward a common strategic goal and leverages the unique strength of each stakeholder.
The navy requires at least 123 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRH) and had released a global request for information for the same in August 2017. Lockheed Martin‘s MH-60Romeo is already the frontrunner. What is the status now?
Now that India’s procurement options have been opened up to include the MH-60R, we are looking for ways to leverage that active production line to expedite delivery to the Indian Navy. The MH-60R provides a vital capability for the Indian Navy in the Indo-Pacific region. The significant investments made in the MH-60R by the US Navy and industry provide the unique assurance that it has undertaken the most rigorous testing. The US Navy has a robust roadmap to add capabilities to the MH-60R as the aircraft will be in their fleet for several decades. With over 450 anti-submarine warfare capable Seahawks flying around the world and millions of flight hours, the expertise Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin is able to offer is unmatched.
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