American defence manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, has expressed its desire to produce F-16 fighter jets in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship Make in India campaign. However, the company has not put any specific timeframe as to when it plans to do so.
If the project is confirmed and crosses all bureaucratic hurdles, it will be the first successful implementation of Modi's pet policy, which has received a lukewarm response so far.
Speaking at the Singapore Airshow 2016, Phil Shaw, chief executive of Lockheed Martin India, told reporters: "We are ready to manufacture F-16 in India and support the Make in India initiative."
He hoped the joint venture would kick off "soon" and added that the firm would closely monitor talks between Washington and New Delhi. "Both the US government and Lockheed Martin see the advantage of placing a manufacturing base in India and make F-16 affordable for emerging markets. Washington, in return, would ensure technology transfer to the Indian engineering sector and a huge boost to Indian exports," a source familiar with the matter, told news agency Press Trust of India.
Lockheed Martin already has a presence in India, with over 1,000 employees but does not manufacture fighter jets. India is also sceptical of Washington's decision to supply Pakistan – New Delhi's nuclear-armed neighbour and geopolitical rival – with F-16s. This could also play a key role in India's response pertaining on how the Lockheed Martin's venture proceeds.
The US has repeatedly stressed that the sale of F-16s to Pakistan – the deal is worth $700m (£489m) – should not concern India. "The US looks at its relationship with Pakistan and with India as a separate relationship. We think these are important capabilities for Pakistan to go after terrorists. We don't think it should be a cause concern for India," Pentagon press secretary Petro Cook told reporters recently. The agreement includes selling eight F-16s to Pakistan which would scale up the country's fleet to 84 aircraft.