By Neha Dasgupta
NEW DELHI, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin will build wings for its F-16 combat plane in India with its local partner, Tata Advanced Systems Limited, an executive at the U.S. company said on Tuesday.
Lockheed is bidding for a contract - estimated at more than $15 billion - to supply the Indian air force with 114 combat planes, which must be all manufactured locally under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship Make in India programme.
However, Vivek Lall, vice president of strategy and business development at Lockheed, said the proposed Indian production of the F-16 wings would not be contingent upon the company winning the order for the planes.
"Producing F-16 wings in India will strengthen Lockheed Martin' strategic partnership with Tata and support Make in India," the company said in a statement.
Modi has been pushing for local manufacturing that will provide jobs and also end the military's dependence on imports.
Lockheed's announcement came just days ahead of top level talks between the United States and India aimed at expanding defence ties.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Boeing has pitched its F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Indian contract as well as Sweden's Saab with its Gripen fighter. France’s Dassault Systemes SE’s Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Russian aircraft are also in the fray.
Lall said Lockheed had offered to make India its sole F-16 production facility that would supply the Indian military but also other countries. "If India buys the F-16 then it becomes the centre of manufacturing for the global market," he said.
Lall said the company planned to begin production of the F-16 wings in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad from 2020. He said these were being produced at a facility in Israel and would not impact any jobs in the United States.
The Israeli centre will continue to be involved in other production, he said. "All F-16 wings globally are to be built in the Hyderabad facility," he said.
Reporting by Neha Dasgupta; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Susan Fenton and Jane Merriman