Lockheed Begins F-16 Trials for Indian Air Force

BANGALORE, India: US aerospace major Lockheed Martin on Monday began
flying its three fighter F-16s here for trials of the medium multi-role
combat aircraft (MMRC) that the Indian Air Force (IAF) wants to buy, to replace its ageing MiG-21 fleet.

“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 trials near
Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and Leh
in Jammu and Kashmir next week will be to test the fighters in hot
weather conditions and in high-altitude mountain ranges.

The three F-16s, which are in service with the United Arab Emirates
(UAE) Air Force and stationed at Dubai air base, flew into Bangalore on
Sep 2, with Lockheed test pilots, US Air Force pilots and a team of engineers and technicians, for the 12-day trials.

“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.

During the training phase, the fighters were stationed at the
state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) airport on the outskirts of
the city. Demonstration of the aircraft, ability of its various systems
and the glass cockpit were held at the IAF’s Aircraft Systems &
Training Establishment (ASTE) complex, which is adjacent to the HAL

“As part of the trial preparation, all the three F-16s took to skies twice a day on hour-long sorties
despite cloudy weather and intermittent rains Sep 3-5. They flew mostly
in south-westerly direction towards Mysore,” a senior air traffic
control (ATC) official said on Sunday.

IAF’s test pilots flew with Lockheed’s test pilots in the tandem
twin-seater for a firsthand ‘feel’ of the aircraft and its ability to
manoeuvre for combat operations.

Though the advanced fourth generation F-16s participating in the
trials are not ‘Super Viper’, they are closest to the new version the
company will offer to the IAF if it wins the estimated $10-billion
order for the 126 planes.

“The F-16IN Super Viper will be tailor-made to meet the requirements
of the IAF and will be the ultimate fourth generation fighter,” Giese

According to Michael R. Griswold, Lockheed director, the F-16s, with
fifth generation capabilities, will demonstrate to the IAF their
striking power, speed, accuracy and its awesome 360-degree manoeuvres, with its sophisticated active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

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 aircrafts in fly-away condition, while the remaining
108 will be manufactured by HAL under a technology transfer deal.

The F-16
trials are taking place three weeks after Boeing flew in its two Super
Hornets Aug 14 and conducted trials for about 10 days from Aug 17 in
Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh.

“Initially, the IAF pilots will co-pilot the aircraft, taking
controls mid-air after familiarizing 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.

The IAF has formed twin teams of two test pilots each for the
trials, which will be conducted in three stages: pilot familiarzsation,
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.