Make India great again? Fighter jet giants look to move production to India

Donald Trump may meet his match when he goes toe-to-toe with another world leader who’s showing prowess at strong-arming American companies into helping make his country great again.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing are the two major companies involved in discussions to build fighter aircraft production plants in India as part of that country’s “Make in India” initiative, which is essentially a mirror-image of President-elect Trump’s aggressive desire to keep manufacturing jobs within the United States. Trump has made retaining blue-collar jobs a post-election priority, and he’s already had a high-profile success in preventing the loss of several hundred jobs at Indiana’s Carrier plant.

“The U.S. is going to substantially reduce taxes and regulations on businesses, but any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequences, is WRONG!” Trump said in a series of Sunday tweets.


Trump earlier this week also showed a willingness to go after jet maker Boeing, in particular, when he publicly sparred with the company over the cost of a new Air Force One fleet.

The “Make in India” program, which is the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to eventually increase the country’s manufacturing base to a quarter of the gross domestic product. So when the Indian government required new jets to replace its aging fleet, any corporation that wanted to be involved knew the planes – an F-16 by Lockheed or F/A-18 by Boeing – would have to be built in India.

“But this is not oursourcing socks here, this is outsourcing military fighter jets,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.

Sekulow’s group has already started a “Petition to Stop Giving Control of our Fighter Jets to Foreign Nations,” and he plans to deliver the demand to Congress later this week. Sekulow told his office has already received calls from Lockheed workers in Fort Worth who’ve said they’re being given notice, offered severance packages or told they can apply to work on the F-35 program – though, with no guarantee of being accepted.

A Lockheed spokesperson, however, told the Fort Worth plant was ramping down production anyway as the U.S. Air Force moved on from the antiquated F-16 and switched to the newer F-35 jet.

“So if you look at the big picture here, thousands of jobs have already gone away as we close out the building of F-16s. That’s a given at this point; there’s nothing we can do to change this,” said Randy Howard, the director of business development for Lockheed’s integrated fighter group. “So what our offer does is seek to mediate that. To remedy that. To bring back those jobs as much as possible. It adds jobs in India, but it also brings back jobs in Fort Worth and across the U.S.”

Howard said opening up a plant in India would actually reinstate about 500 Lockheed staff positions that support F-16 production, “predominantly” in the United States. He also guaranteed “all F-16 workers will have a job available to them on the F-35 production line.”

Boeing, too, told that it’s F/A-18 production line in St. Louis “continues to have a solid future.”

“Our proposal to meet the needs of the Indian Air Force’s fighter requirements entails creating a separate new Super Hornet production facility in India where Boeing has had a presence for more than seven decades,” Boeing said in a statement. “We’re optimistic about the opportunity to continue our work in St. Louis and add a new production line in India which would also create more opportunities for our entire Super Hornet supply chain.”

The “Make in India” program is supported by President Obama’s outgoing administration, which is looking to strengthen ties with India. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Thursday visited India and an official statement said the two countries’ continued cooperation “will strengthen India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.” A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment more specifically on the program.

Sekulow, who said he was first alerted to the India news by former military officers who are a part of his group’s national security team, said he was all for increasing trade and relations with India, but that military manufacturing was a step too far.

“President [Obama] is not very good with lines in the sand,” Sekulow said. “But here’s one he should draw.”