Lockheed Martin flying in F-16s to Bangalore for IAF trials

Bangalore, Aug 28 (Inditop.com) Three F-16 advanced fighters of US aerospace major Lockheed Martin will soar into the skies Monday for the flight evaluation trials (FET) of the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) the Indian Air Force (IAF) is seeking to replace its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 fleet.

“We are flying in three F-16s from Dubai to Bangalore Aug 31 for the month-long field trials. The fourth-generation advanced fighters are currently with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force. They will be flown by our test pilots along with US Air Force pilots,” a senior Lockheed Martin official told Inditop here.

In the run-up to the trials, to be conducted in Bangalore, near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan desert and in high-altitude Leh in September, Lockheed Martin has flown-in an advance team, including a logistics group, for ground preparations.

“The F-16s, with fifth generation capabilities, will demonstrate to the IAF their strike power, speed, accuracy and its awesome 360-degree maneouvers, with its sophisticated active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar,” Lockheed Martin director Michael R. Griswold said.

If Lockheed Martin bags the lucrative order, estimated to be about $10 billion at current prices for 126 aircraft, it will manufacture an Indian version, christened F-16IN Super Viper that will carry about 8,000kg of conventional weapons or nuclear

warheads.

The other five aircraft in the fray for the order are Boeing’s F/A-181N Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the Saab Gripen, the Russian MiG-35 and the European consortium EADS Eurofighter Typhoon.

As per the global tender floated last year, the winning bidder will have to deliver 18 aircraft in fly-away condition, while the remaining 108 will be manufactured by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) under a technology transfer deal.

Though the tender is for 126 aircraft, there is an option for an additional 50 percent, or 63 more aircraft.

The F-16 trials will take place a fortnight after Boeing flew in its two Super Hornets Aug 14 and conducted trials for about 10 days from Aug 17 in Bangalore before taking-off to Jaisalmer and Leh for a series of trials in hot and cold weather conditions.

During the second round of field trials, senior IAF test pilots will join Lockheed Martin test pilots to fly the tandem-seater fighters for a firsthand feel of its capabilities and technologies, especially its electronic warfare abilities.

“Initially, the IAF pilots will co-pilot the aircraft, taking controls mid-air after familiarising themselves with the systems and the advanced navigation aids. In the subsequent trials, the IAF pilots will take command of the aircraft for evaluating its various parameters, including use of weapons,” a Lockheed Martin official said but declined to be named.

The IAF has formed two teams of two test pilots each for the flight trials, which will be conducted in three stages: pilot familiarisation, field trials and weapons systems trials. The third stage will be conducted in the country of manufacture.

The technical evaluation was completed early this year after the six manufacturers responded to the IAF’s Request for Proposal (RFP) in August 2007.

“All the trials are on a no-cost-no-commitment basis. The IAF will buy only the aircraft that meets all the parameters in terms of capabilities and cost,” a defence analyst told Inditop¬† here.