MUMBAI -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" campaign just received a big push, with Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems signing a deal to produce F-16 fighter jets in the country.
The F-16 will be the second fighter aircraft produced in India, after the homegrown Tejas, which started rolling off the line in 2001 to replace the military's Russian MiG-21s.
In a joint statement, the U.S. and Indian contractors said the F-16 Block 70 model is ideally suited to meeting the Indian Air Force's single-engine fighter needs, and that this "unprecedented" industrial partnership directly supports the South Asian country's efforts to develop private aerospace and defense manufacturing capacity.
The deal "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 multirole fighter," the companies said.
All told, there are currently around 3,200 operational F-16s in 26 countries.
Tata Advanced Systems already manufactures airframe components for Lockheed's C-130J airlifter and S-92 helicopter. "This agreement builds on the already established joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Tata and underscores the relationship and commitment between the two companies," said N. Chandrasekaran, chairman of holding company Tata Sons.
The companies also emphasized they are answering Modi's "Make in India" call. The government has relaxed the foreign direct investment rules for the defense sector to attract private players.
India's former defense minister had previously said the government was zeroing in on domestic production of either the F-16 or the Gripen, a jet made by Sweden's Saab.
Partners in high places
The Tata-Lockheed agreement, inked during the Paris Air Show, comes ahead of Modi's first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump next Monday.
In an apparent nod to the U.S. president's "American workers first" rhetoric, the partners' statement stressed that F-16 production in India would support thousands of supplier jobs stateside, while also creating new manufacturing jobs in India.
Over the last few years, India has been strengthening its ties with the U.S. in the defense sector, while maintaining its longstanding relationships with Russia and Israel. New Delhi sees military modernization as a priority, in light of tensions with neighbors China and Pakistan.
China has been slowly gaining influence in the Indian Ocean region -- including through projects in Karachi and Gwadar, in Pakistan, along with Colombo Port City and Hambantota, in Sri Lanka. China is also constructing roads and other infrastructure along the disputed land border with northeastern India.
India's territorial dispute with Pakistan, of course, remains unresolved.
The Modi government hopes to tilt the balance with greater private-sector involvement and increased competition. The idea is to substantially reduce India's dependence on defense imports and promote a strong domestic industry.