Interview: Lockheed Martin has integrated 70 Indian suppliers into global defence supply chain

In an interview ahead of DefExpo-2022, Lockheed Martin India’s vice president and chief executive William L. Blair tells our editor N. C. Bipindra that hundreds of domestic suppliers, including over 140 MSMEs, feed into the joint ventures set up by the American defence major in India. The F-21 industrial offering will put India at the epicentre of the world’s largest fighter jetproduction and sustainment market creating thousands of new jobs locally.

Q. Kindly provide an overview of the progress of Lockheed Martin’s supplies to the Indian armed forces going on at present, and what are the deliveries now scheduled to be done at the Lockheed Martin’s end in those contracts?

A. The Indian Navy’s acquisition of MH-60RRomeo” helicopter is the largest contract Lockheed Martin has ever signed with India. Through the India MH-60R programme, Lockheed Martin is excited to work with Indian companies to further develop long-term potential business relationships.

The MH-60R “Romeo” is the most capable and mature Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) multi-mission helicopter available in the world today. The MH-60R is deployed globally with the US Navy fleet and a growing number of international navies. The MH-60R employs a modular design, which refers to the ability to modify weapon systems to match specific mission requirements. The modular design gives this single platform the agility to provide greater surveillance and flexibility capabilities, as well as more options for multiple mission requirements.

The US Navy has already delivered the first three aircraft to the Indian Navy in 2021, in a record 14 months from contract signing, and these aircraft are being utilised to train Indian pilots and crew members in California. In Jul.-Aug. 2022, the US Navy transported to India another three helicopters, which will be initially based at Naval Air Station INS Garuda in Kochi. A total of 24 MH-60Rs will be delivered in country over the next few years.

Photo: MH-60R “Romeo

Q. Where has Lockheed Martin set its eyes on in India for its business growth in the days to come? What are the possible programmes of the Indian armed forces for which Lockheed Martin has offers from its portfolio of solutions?

William L. Blair, Lockheed Martin India vice president and chief executive.

A. We see tremendous opportunity in India to build on our foundation here expanding in multiple domains including air, land, sea, cyber and space to meet the customers mission needs. For Lockheed Martin, India provides opportunities to not just partner with the government in modernising the country’s armed forces but to also contribute to the country’s society and economy.

The IAF is currently facing a fighter squadron deficit required to meet its regional security needs. Lockheed Martin has proposed the F-21 as the ideal solution to meet India’s capability, force structure, affordability, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ requirements. Lockheed Martin has an unmatched track record of establishing robust partnerships and defence industrial capabilities across multiple fighter platforms and countries worldwide.

We have been investing in building capability in-country in advance of the fighter jet competition and as a show of confidence in Indian industry, signed MoUs with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to explore industrial opportunities to generate jobs and economic benefits in support of “Make in India” and “Start-Up India” initiatives, as well as in support of India’s air power mission.

The F-21 is the most advanced 4th generation fighter we have ever offered. The F-21 would serve as a force multiplier for the Indian Air Force (IAF) with an unmatched capability-to-cost ratio compared to the competition. In addition, the F-21 is equipped with state-of-the-art systems and sensors that would allow the IAF to detect, track and engage multiple targets in a contested environment.

The current and future state of warfare is and will be around gathering and sharing information across multiple domains – air, space, land, sea, and cyber – to make effective warfighting decisions as quickly as possible. The F-21 will be able to integrate across these domains and across Indian services to provide current and future relevance. Our F-21 offer is also “Made in India” which addresses the goals of “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” while providing India with an improved security cooperation relationship with the United States. Furthermore, the F-21’s industrial offering will put India at the epicentre of the world’s largest fighter production and sustainment market creating thousands of new jobs in India.

From a ‘Missiles and Fire Control’ perspective, Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod and Infrared Search and Track (IRST21) will soon have licenses for parts to be made in India. We are working with the US government to secure these licenses and anticipate sending quote requests soon.

Additionally, we are leveraging decades of experience to develop scalable Directed Energy solutions for military aircraft. Our integrated systems complement kinetic solutions to protect warfighters in the air and on the ground.

Besides this, we are also working on investing in the future of India through educational and skilling efforts that aim to inspire future generations of scientists, technologists and innovators in India and develop the country’s workforce.

We also see opportunity to help India realise its space goals. India is a key contributor to the success of the global space community. Lockheed Martin is excited about the recent developments surrounding India Space and its willingness to open its facilities to support future cooperation and collaborative efforts within the Space domain. Lockheed Martin is currently involved with the US Department of Defense in a number of key space initiatives such as GPS. We pride ourselves on delivering mission assurance to all of our customers and look forward to providing this level of assurance for India Space, in the future.

Photo: F-21 fighter jet offered to Indian Air Force

Q. Please share the futuristic technologies that Lockheed Martin is currently working on in the Aerospace & Defence sectors, for land, air, naval and space dimensions, and how would those technologies fit into the India strategy of the company?

A. Lockheed Martin stands committed to address India’s requirements for new-age military solution in the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber world in sync with the robust framework of fast-expanding Indo-US strategic ties. Given the company’s global footprint and expertise in advanced technology, we are well-placed to partner with Indian entities in areas of unmanned platforms, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing and Machine Learning among others.

Lockheed Martin’s unmanned technologies can play a predominant role in modern-day warfare situations. Our portfolio of sophisticated unmanned systems is currently being used for a variety of lifesaving military and commercial applications, and the demand for these capabilities is growing.

In addition, advancements that support autonomous and optionally piloted operations, like Sikorsky’s MATRIX™ Technology, will change the ways aviators and air crews execute their missions, assisting when flying with reduced crew or limited visibility. MATRIX is like a virtual second pilot that will help operators fly safely and confidently in dangerous and complex missions. It can leverage full authority flight control inputs for autonomous flight – including takeoff, route planning, obstacle avoidance, site selection and landing. MATRIX Technology will enable operators to fly more manned missions in adverse weather or restricted visibility, fly missions more effectively in complex and obstacle rich environments, eliminate sources of pilot and operator error, and reduce operating costs.

The technology has been integrated and extensively flight tested on various aircraft including the S-76B and a Black Hawk. The team recently achieved a significant milestone, flying an uncrewed S-70 Black Hawk autonomously for 30 minutes.

Q. What shall be Lockheed Martin’s strategy and outlook towards the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbar Bharat’ (Self-Reliant India) push of the Indian government, with the company’s vast experience working with Indian armed forces, public and private sector companies such Tata Group for years now?

A. Among the world’s major nations, India stands out for its commitment and ambition to build an indigenous industrial base for defence and aerospace. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for increasing defence exports to $5 billion in five years is a testament to this commitment and ambition. Much of this will have to happen through the ‘Make in India’ vision and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative for defence, which is both progressive and visionary.

Lockheed Martin continues to build upon its more than seven decades of association and three decades of partnership with India, expand collaborations with local industry to support the evolution of indigenous defence and aerospace manufacturing ecosystem, and advance India’s strategic security and industrial capabilities.

Our joint venture (JV) with Tata Advanced Systems LimitedTata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL) – in Hyderabad established over a decade ago produces major aerostructure components for the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. This is the sole supplier of these components to Lockheed Martin and is an integral part of our global supply chain. To date, TLMAL has manufactured and delivered more than 180 C-130J empennages.

Photo: C-130J Super Hercules.

Recently, TLMAL was also recognised as a potential future co-producer of fighter wings. The increase in global demand for F-16, would therefore, present an interesting opportunity for Indian entities like TLMAL to be part of the fighter jet supply chain.

Our other JV, Tata Sikorsky Aerospace Limited (TSAL), also established over a decade ago, manufactures aerospace components for commercial helicopters and aircraft and has expanded to include aircraft engine components for aerospace industry companies as well. It is also fully integrated into the global supply chain.

Hundreds of suppliers, including over 140 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) feed into these two JVs and have benefited from the vision of Lockheed Martin and Tata Group working together. At present, more than 70 Indian suppliers have been integrated into Lockheed Martin’s global supply chain.

Lockheed Martin has worked with Ashok Leyland to develop the next generation military vehicle for India and global market. The vehicle has been field evaluated in various environmental conditions by the Indian customers and has been selected by some of the military users in India. Nine vehicles were delivered to the Indian Air Force in 2021 with a follow-on order for more. The engineering support, and the cooperative working relationship with Ashok Leyland was instrumental for the success of development and production of indigenous equipment – another great example of the ‘Make in India’ concept.

Lockheed Martin hosts an annual Suppliers Conference to engage with the Indian industry to build on the company’s existing foundation in India and identify additional strategic partners from across the country to include companies of all sizes – Large, MSMEs and Startups.

During the last year’s conference, Rossell Techsys was awarded a contract with Lockheed Martin to build Electrical Wire Harness and Interconnect System (EWIS) parts in support of Lockheed Martin’s MH-60R aircraft that are being supplied to the Indian Navy. As part of the contract received from Lockheed Martin, Rossell Techsys shall perform “Build to Print” (BTP) manufacture of the wire harnesses that will be installed on the MH-60R. Manufacture of these parts is being performed in the “Center of Excellence” (COE), set up by Rossell Techsys for Lockheed Martin platforms. The manufacture of parts has commenced, with the first parts having successfully undergone acceptance by Lockheed Martin.

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