Lockheed Martin F-16 American Fighter Jet To Start Trials For Indian Air Force
The Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper
Close on the heels of the field trials for the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, IAF will now put to pace the Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper in a bid to source a winner for its MMRCA tender.
The MMRCA (Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft) programme pertains to a tender worth $10 billion floated by the IAF to help replace its aging fleet of fighter aircraft namely the MiG-21, MiG-27 and Jaguar fighters with 126 new 4++ generation fighters.
"The field trials will be conducted in Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh till Sep 18 in different conditions. We had the training phase from Sep 3-5 in preparation for the trials," Lockheed's international communications manager John Giese said.
The field trails in each region correspond to different temperature, pressure and altitude conditions. While Bangalore represents moderate climate, Jaisalmer represesnts hot weather and Leh will test the jet’s capability to withstand high altitude conditions.
For the trials, three F-16s from the UAE Air Force stationed at Dubai will be used. They were flown into Bangalore on September 2. They however are not the F-16IN Super Viper that Lockheed Martin plans to custom build for the IAF. However these Block 70 F-16s are the closest to the IN variant. Along with the aircraft and Lockheed test pilots, America has sent US Air Force pilots and a team of engineers and technicians to assist us in conducting the 12-day trails.
"The fighters landed two days behind schedule due to inclement weather and operational reasons. The training phase included familiarising the IAF's evaluation teams with the aircraft's capabilities and technologies, especially its latest electronic warfare and navigational aids," Giese said.
The testing began at the Bangalore HAL airport and each jet flew two hour-long sorties on a daily basis despite inclement weather. Most sorties were flown in the south-westerly direction towards Mysore.
"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 the use of weapons," a Lockheed official said.
Other fighters bidding for the tender are the French Dassult Aviation Rafale, the Swedish SAAB Gripen Jas-39, the EADS Eurofighter Typhoon and the Russian Mikoyan MiG-35D.
IAF has formed two teams of test pilots who will evaluate objectively each aircraft on three parameters: pilot familiarisation, field trails and weapons systems trails. The first two will be conducted in India. As regards the testing of the weapon systems, this will be done in the country of the aircraft’s origin.
While IAF claims that all aircraft will be tested objectively, many speculate that the Russian MiG-35D will win the tender given India’s special and time tested relationship with Russia in the sphere of arms purchase and joint weapons research and development.