Lockheed Martin’s plan announced this week to move the F-16 fighter line from Texas to India if it wins a big military competition there could be a formula for securing foreign markets that other U.S. military contractors follow. It is also probably the last, best hope for keeping F-16 production going, since the fighter is being replaced in U.S. fleets by the next-generation F-35. The Pentagon hasn’t ordered new F-16s since 1999, although it continues to operate and upgrade hundreds of Air Force F-16s still in service.

Lockheed, the world’s biggest military contractor, proposes to team with Tata Group, which has over $100 billion in sales and 660,000 employees. Among other things, Tata is the biggest global provider of wholesale voice communications, the world’s second-largest IT company, and a major player in everything from steel to automobiles to chemicals to power generation. Over the last five years, its aerospace unit has grown by leaps and bounds as it inked supplier relationships with Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed unit Sikorsky.

The proposed arrangement was necessary to compete for what could be the biggest F-16 order in decades, a requirement for 100-200 single-engine fighters that New Delhi says it must have to counter the growing air threat posed by China and Pakistan. India, the world’s largest importer of weapons, has stated it will only consider fighters that are assembled domestically with a local partner under an initiative that it calls “Make In India.” Sweden’s Gripen appears to be Lockheed’s main rival for the contract, and will likely announce its own partnership with an Indian company soon.

A combat-ready F-16E Block 60 built by Lockheed Martin for the United Arab Emirates. The fighters that Lockheed and Tata Advanced Systems propose to build in India would be the more advanced Block 70.
A combat-ready F-16E Block 60 built by Lockheed Martin for the United Arab Emirates. The fighters that Lockheed and Tata Advanced Systems propose to build in India would be the more advanced Block 70.

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A combat-ready F-16E Block 60 built by Lockheed Martin for the United Arab Emirates. The fighters that Lockheed and Tata Advanced Systems propose to build in India would be the more advanced Block 70.

The press release issued by Lockheed and Tata at the Paris Air Show on Monday didn’t spell out all the…