US may offer F-35A to India for countering China?

F-35A : The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as it was drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), calls for the Pentagon to increase its cooperation with India on issues of “emerging technologies, readiness, and logistics” within 90 days of the legislation’s passage. The US Senate has identified areas for cooperation with India in the areas of intelligence collection capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, 5G, fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, and joint research and development.

India was named a Major Defense Partner by the US in 2016. In accordance with this designation, India was promoted to Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 level in 2018. This status entitles India to license-free access to a variety of defence and dual-use technologies governed by the Department of Commerce. The Pentagon recently gave Boeing permission to withdraw its F-18 E/F offer and replace it with an F-15 EX offer to India.

The F-16 block 70 that Lockheed Martin previously offered to India under the now-cancelled MMRCA tender had failed to clear the technical round and also failed to meet IAF requirements on many counts. Lockheed Martin has offered India its F-16V, which for the Indian audience is known as the F-21, but the chances of Lockheed Martin concluding the IAF deal for 114 jets are very slim first because it is operated by archrival Pakistan.

The most recent NDAA version suggests that the Pentagon be given permission to provide India with more American weapons, particularly top-tier items like the F-35 that was kept out of reach for India for various reasons. The House Armed Services Committee measure emphasises the importance of arming American allies like India in case of future Chinese invasion.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) in the Indo-Pacific was created as a result of China’s plans for territorial expansion. Following recent Chinese aggression in the region, all participating nations have made progress in the QUAD, with India remaining the lone participant who does not fly American jets.

Despite India’s potential decision to purchase fewer aircraft due to the prohibitive cost of these aircraft, French Rafale is currently winning the competition and is therefore likely to win the contract. American jets are likely to be rejected unless Lockheed approves the sale of F-35A and offers local Assembly of the jets without Transfer of technology. The F-15EX is in the same class as Su-30MKI, and the IAF does not favour the F-21.

There is still a long way to go, but the IAF has already committed to buying almost 126 AMCA 5th generation fighter jets starting in 2030. Due to an increase in production that has just surpassed 300 units per year, F-35A costs have decreased in recent years. Even while the operational costs are presently considerable, they will in a few years be comparable to those of the F-15.

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