What Happens When You Put an F-22 and an F-35 Inside an F-16? You Get India's F-21

David Axe

Key Point: But will it actually happen?

Lockheed Martin in mid-February 2019 offered to sell India a new fighter the company calls the "F-21."

Only it doesn't look like a new fighter at all. The F-21 looks like an F-16.

In fact, the F-21 is an F-16 that Lockheed has upgraded with new cockpit displays, conformal fuel tanks, a larger airframe spine that can accommodate additional electronics, fittings for towed radar decoys, a new infrared sensor and a refueling probe that's compatible with India's Russian-made aerial tankers.

"The F-21 addresses the Indian air force’s unique requirements," Lockheed stated.

The rebranding raises an important question. At what point do upgrades transform an old fighter into a new fighter?

It isn't a purely academic question. The number of different fighter types that a country simultaneously can produce is a useful marker of that country's war-making capacity.

India for years has been struggling to replace a large fleet of old, Russian-made warplanes. In 2018 the Indian air force operated 244 1960s-vintage MiG-21s and 84 MiG-27s that are only slightly younger.

The MiG-21s, in particular, are accident-prone. Since the first of 874 MiG-21s entered Indian service in 1963, around 490 have crashed, killing around 200 pilots.

New Delhi wants to spend around $18 billion building 115 new fighters to replace the old MiGs. The new planes would fly alongside European-designed Jaguars, French Mirage 2000s and Rafales, Russian MiG-29s and Su-30s, and India's own indigenous Tejas fighter in what Lockheed described as "the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem."

Read the original article.