The US presence in India’s 27 long years air shows has been dismissal, unlike in Aero India 2023. Several American solutions were showcased in the host city of Bangalore. The presence of Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II and F-21 was more than symbolic.
The US is rumoured to be ready to talk to India about its desire for a fifth-generation fighter jet. Senior US officials have even confirmed these rumours. Decisions on whether India wants to have a fifth-generation fighter jet are “at a very early stage”. These are the words of Rear Admiral Michael L. Baker, the US Embassy’s Defense Attaché in India.
Baker stated that there are discussions about the F-35 for India, but there is currently nothing to report on the subject. He emphasised that India is a strategic partner of the United States in the White House’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
There have been no indications of the government’s attitude in New Delhi. Captain TP Srivastava, a retired Indian pilot, sees no use for the F-35 in the Indian Air Force or Navy. He sees maintenance costs as a significant barrier for India. According to the former pilot, the F-35 will not meet India’s technological requirements. “If I make a decision and the F-35 is offered to me for free, I will decline,” Srivastava says.
Srivastava highlights some issues that, at this point, are preventing its acquisition. For example, issues with the stealth cover, the catapult seat, and so on. All of the issues that BulgarianMilitary.com has discussed in recent years. Not to mention that it’s still unclear whether Lockheed was able to eliminate the plane’s 13 major issues from a list of over 800 complaints.
So, why bring up the F-35 in India? Experts and analysts believe that this is an attempt to entice New Delhi to abandon Russian influence in this area. The combined presence of the F-21 and F-35 is particularly noticeable. Let us recall that the United States is still in the running to sell the 114 multi-role fighter jets that India desires. Lockheed’s proposal for this order is the F-21.
India’s contract is appealing; it is worth nearly $20 billion USD. The US will do everything possible to win it because it represents more than a mouthful of Russian influence in India.
India is currently in a position where it must ensure its defence against two neighbours: Pakistan and China. According to BulgarianMilitary.com, India can afford to buy Russian weapons without fear of American sanctions. Washington could not afford to lose a multibillion-dollar market if stupidity and false morality triumphed and sanctions were imposed under New Delhi’s CAATSA law.
Furthermore, as a US ally, India was the only one to oppose the sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Not only did New Delhi reject them, but it also did not impose its own sanctions against the Russian Federation. With this stance, India can maintain its long-standing partnership and friendly relations with Russia.
And India’s current position is a win-win situation: even if it purchases F-21s from the US, Moscow will not be upset because it has failed to fulfil its commitments to India since the end of the war in Ukraine. As a result, New Delhi will be able to prefer an American fighter without even having to justify its decision, instead simply reminding Moscow of the delayed deliveries. Supplies that India requires right now due to the aforementioned neighbours.
This is precisely the function of the F-35/F-21 package on display in India. Washington reiterates that it will not sue India for purchasing Russian weapons, and that it is prepared to deliver its own if Moscow is unable to do so.
Major General Julian S. Cheater, Assistant Deputy Secretary for International Affairs of the United States Air Force, expressed a similar logic. It hasn’t been long since he spoke about India and the United States’ relationship with that country. According to him, the Aero India 2023 exhibition is an opportunity for Washington to demonstrate to New Delhi that it is willing to collaborate and share technologies. The possibility that the United States will supply lethal weapons that are compatible with Indian interests and weapons systems.
The F-35/F-21 package will have to compete with Russia’s Su-57 fighter and Rosoboronexport’s offering. According to the Russian news agency TASS, Russia and India are already discussing the joint production of the Su-57, as previously reported by BulgarianMilitary.com. It is currently unknown what stage they are in.