The Indian Air Force (IAF) is formally requesting a classified briefing on F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighter jet from its developer, Lockheed Martin, Business Standard reported.
India is increasingly interested in procuring the advanced combat aircraft and has requested the briefing on its capabilities, said the report.
The report noted that the fighter was never offered to India by the U.S. Government. It added that a classified briefing would require formal clearance from the Department of Defence (DoD, the Pentagon) 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.
According to the report, IAF wants to acquire 126 F-35A platforms. The F-35A is the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant of the fighter developed for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). F-35A variant will primarily replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet in the USAF inventory and maybe even replace A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II close air support (CAS) attack aircraft. The F-35A was declared basic combat ready in August 2016.
The other variants of the fighter are F-35B – the short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant developed for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) – and F-35C – the carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant developed for the U.S. Navy (USN). F-35B will replace F/A-18 Hornet/ Super Hornet and AV-8B Harrier of the USMC while F-35C will replace F/A-18 of the USN.
Until now, only three fifth generation fighters entered combat service – the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter of the USAF, the F-35 and the Chengdu J-20 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force.
China is considered as the regional rival of India and the J-20 being declared combat ready recently may have rewed India’s interest in F-35. The J-20 officially entered military service in September last year.
China is also developing another stealth fighter, the J-31 Shenyang which may be offered for export and may become a strong contender to the F-35 in the international market. It may be also be offered to India’s “arch rival” and China’s “close friend”, Pakistan.
Russia is developing its own fifth-generation fighter, the Sukhoi PAK-FA (Sukhoi Su-57), and has offered India a partnership role in developing the PAK-FA into the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) for the IAF. Negotiations on roles and costing are over, but the Indian defence ministry is yet to accept the Russian offer.
India is also developing its own multirole stealth fighter jet named HAL Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Feasibility study and the preliminary design stage have been completed and the project now awaits approval to begin design and development stage.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather, fifth-generation stealth multirole fighters designed and developed by Lockheed Martin.
The fighter combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, advanced mission systems, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and cutting-edge sustainment. They were developed to perform ground attack and air defense missions.
On 31 July 2015, the USMC declared ready for deployment the first squadron of F-35B fighters after intensive testing. On 2 August 2016, the USAF declared its first squadron of F-35A fighters combat-ready. The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) declaration of Navy fighters are expected in 2019.
More than 240 F-35s have been built and delivered worldwide, and they have collectively flown more than 105,000 flight hours.