A top U.S. defense contractor has signed an agreement that will move production of a classic American fighter jet abroad.
Lockheed Martin signed a deal Monday with Tata Advanced Systems that will move production of F-16 fighter planes from Fort Worth, Texas to India to secure billions of dollars in orders of several hundred aircraft for the Indian military.
“This unprecedented F-16 production partnership between the world’s largest defense 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,” a joint statement read, according to Reuters Monday.
India will also be able to export F-16 fighter jets to air forces around the world. Around 3,200 fighters are being flown by 26 countries worldwide.
India is eager to upgrade its aging fleet of Soviet-era aircraft, but the government has demanded that foreign suppliers must produce the aircraft in India to strengthen domestic industries and reduce the country’s overall exports. The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promoting a Made-in-India initiative at a time when President Donald Trump is trying to “make America great again” by strengthening American manufacturing and keeping jobs in the U.S.
Talks between Lockheed and India began during the Obama administration. Both the previous and current administrations have offered their support to bilateral negotiations and the deal concerning F-16 production.
“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,” a joint statement explained.
The deal, according to earlier reports, is expected to create 1,000 jobs abroad. Lockheed claims that the deal with India will not cost U.S. jobs, as new opportunities will be created with other programs.
The F-16 is being phased out in the U.S. for newer programs, such as the F-35 Lighting II joint strike fighter. Abroad, the F-16 remains one of the most widely-used fighter jets in the world today.
At this time, it is unclear how many fighter jets India will order, as the bidding has yet to start, but insiders suspect the order to include around 100 to 250 aircraft.
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