Touted to be the world’s most advanced fighter, the F-35A fighters made its debut at the Aero India 2023 (Feb. 13-17) show, sending signals of U.S.’ possible willingness to sell them to India.
There was buzz about F-35’s participation at this year’s edition of the show. On the eve of Aero India, the U.S. delegation said that there would be a “surprise” in store for the visitors.
Two stealthy and supersonic Lockheed Martin F-35A combat jets were part of static displays at Air Force station at Bengaluru on Day 1 of the show. The jets did not take part in any demonstration, but are expected to do so from Feb. 14.
"After a journey from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, United States, the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team will impress crowds with a demo of its unique aerial capabilities. The F-35A Lightning II from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska will be on static display," a readout by the Americana side said.
India has been looking for a fifth generation jet for over 10 years and had partnered with Russia but pulled out as Moscow was behind in developing crucial technologies.
Its neighbor China has matured its J-20 stealth jet and is said to have built a large inventory of the same. Though the official number of J-20 jets in service has not been officially disclosed by the People’s Liberation Army, various estimates have put the number as between 250-300. In February, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) showed the teaser of what could be the country's future fighter jet.
In this situation, India is falling behind with only its fourth generation Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Rafale to match.
The U.S. delegation on Feb. 12 told reporters at a press conference that it would be too premature for the U.S. to offer the F-35 to India. While earlier the U.S. was reluctant to sell F-35 to India, the situation could change with its increased focus on the Indo-Pacific. Barring India, Major U.S. allies in the region - Australia, Japan and South Korea have F-35 jets.
"India and the United States are working together in so many ways to ensure a free and open, prosperous, connected, and resilient Indo-Pacific region, where our democracies can thrive. As partners, we're working together to address climate change, improve global health and prepare for new pandemics, cooperate on cyber challenges, build quality infrastructure and ensure sustainable supply chains," U.S. Charge d'Affaires to India Ambassador A Elizabeth Jones said on Sunday.
Lockheed Martin has been trying to sell India 114 of its F-21 jets.