Lockheed Martin on Wednesday surprised the aviation world by unveiling the F-21 fighter jet, a proposed tailor-made version of the F-16, which it is pitching to the Indian Air Force.
The company touted the proposed plane, “specifically configured for the Indian Air Force,” as “India’s pathway to F-35.”
“The F-21 addresses the Indian Air Force’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem with the world’s pre-eminent defence company,” Lockheed said in a statement.
Unveiled on the opening day of the biennial Aero India show in Bengaluru, the F-21 represents the company’s latest attempt to nab India’s planned $15 billion purchase of 114 new fighter jets. Other announced competitors include the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, and Russian aircraft. Lockheed had previously pitched an advanced version of the F-16.
“The F-21 has common components and learning from Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-22 and F-35 and will share a common supply chain on a variety of components,” Lockheed said on in a post on its website. “Approximately half of the F-21 and F-16 supply chains are common with the F-22 and F-35.”
A Lockheed video of the F-21 concept depicts a somewhat beefier jet than the F-16.
Most noticeably, the plane has a retractable probe, similar to the kind used by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, that allowing them to take on fuel in flight via a hose-and-drogue system used by the Indian Air Force. Standard F-16s are refueled in flight with a boom.
The special refueling system is tucked into massive conformal fuel tanks on each side of the fuselage behind the cockpit. Lockheed’s Skunk Works advanced development division started working on the refueling system back in 2007.
Lockheed illustrations show the plane with a heavy weapons load and a Sniper targeting pod. The cockpit’s instrument panel has a large, single screen, similar to the company’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Reuters reports that the company proposes to build the F-21 in India with local partner Tata Advanced Systems. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make-In-India policy aims to build up the country’s industrial base.
In 2017, Lockheed announced plans to move its F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas, to South Carolina to allow its F-35 factory to expand