F-35 Lightning II for India
The IAF was interested in procuring 126 of the air force version of the fighter, the variant called F-35A that incorporates “conventional take-off and landing”, or CTOL. The Indian Navy, which has never ruled out operating the F-35 off Indian aircraft carriers, has received a briefing on the F-35 as far back as 2010, Lockheed Martin official Orville Prins told Business Standard correspondent Ajai Shukla. India would not be sold the F-35 as long as it remained partnered with Russia in the FGFA co-development project, as Washington would guard against the leakage of F-35 technology into the Russian FGFA.
In 2011, the US Senate Armed Services Committee requested the Pentagon to study the feasibility of an F-35 sale to India. Senators John Cornyn (co-chair of the Senate India Caucus) and Joseph Lieberman spearheaded the proposal. The Senate India Caucus is a bipartisan coalition that brings national attention to domestic and international issues that affect our economies and security. Formed in 2004 by Sens. John Cornyn and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), it was the first country-focused caucus established in the Senate. Senators John Cornyn and Joe Lieberman introduced committee amendments that required the Secretary of Defense to examine the possibility of selling India F-35 fighters.
The Indian defense establishment was uneasy about using an American airplane on missions potentially involving combat with Pakistan, a formal US ally. There may also be U.S. laws limiting the planes from carrying nuclear weapons. The United States continued to have a poor reputation as a military supplier. India rejected offers from two US firms to compete for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract worth over $10 billion. India would have given the order to a US firm if it had been assured that the United States would back India politically thereafter. Since this guarantee was not available, and awarding a US firm the contract would increase Washington’s ability to influence New Delhi, the United States was a not a good choice politically as a supplier.
Despite the adverse MMRCA decision, the United States showed continued interest in selling the F-35 to India. In 2011 Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for South Asia at that time, remarked, “The F-35 is something that we would be more than willing to talk to the government of India about should they request to find out more information about purchasing it.”
Sale of the F-35 came up two years later, again with no decision taken although it reflects strong US interest and desire to deepen ties with India. The US is looking forward to expand its military ties with India including a potential sale of the F-35 fighter aircraft, though no decision have been made so far, a top state department official said 19 April 2013. "We have made tremendous progress in the defence trade relationship. Now we're at $8 billion, we think there's going to be billion dollars more in the next couple of years," said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. When asked about a potential sale of the fifth generation F-35 stealth fighter aircrafts to India, he said that there might also be down the road some potential for it, but certainly no decision has been made regarding that. It was speculated that the US might offer the famed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to India, following India's rejection of the F/A-18 and F-16 fighters in the multi-million dollar MMRCA deal.
By 2018 the Indian Air Force (IAF) was increasingly interested in procuring the American F-35 Lightning II for its depleting fighter fleet. Business Standard learned the IAF top brass was formally requesting for a classified briefing by the F-35’s prime builder, Lockheed Martin. as of February 2018 the US government had not formally offered the F-35 to India. A classified briefing would require formal clearance from the US Department of Defence and the State Department. The grant of such a clearance would be an important first step towards permitting the sale of F-35s to India.
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) defence minister AK Antony had ruled out buying the F-35 Lightning II, arguing that India would have the FGFA to meet its fifth-generation fighter needs. By 2018 the Indian Air Force (IAF) had formally requesting a classified briefing by U.S. defence contractor Lockheed Martin on the capabilities of its fifth-generation stealth multirole F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II, the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing version, according to Indian media reports. Rumors of background talks about the possibility of purchasing the stealth fighter have persisted.
The FGFA’s burial set the stage for the IAF to eventually acquire the F-35 Lightning II, which comes in air force as well as naval variants.
Admiral Philip S Davidson, chosen to replace Admiral Harry B Harris as the top US military commander in the Indo-Pacific region, suggested the US should replace Russia as India’s premier security partner. Asked in his confirmation hearings on 19 April 2018 the US Senate Armed Services Committee about what he envisaged – military sales, or military training – as the key tool for engaging India, Davidson stated: “India’s military has long relied on the former Soviet Union for some of their technology and training. We have to break down that historical background, to a certain extent. Break down is not the correct word, but we willing to work with that so we can move forward with India".
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