SOURCE: AMIT PANDEY/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
For some time, rumors abounded that the IAF might make a bid for the Lockheed Martin F-35A, however, IAF quickly scotched such speculation since it was pretty much clear from the start that US government might consider clearing the sale of such an advanced fighter to India but without transfer of technology nor it could have granted India license to locally produce .
Earlier this year, India asked Russia to proceed alone with developing their fifth-generation fighter Su-57 jet and deal for the joint development of a new variant based on Su-57 is completely shelved while India, however, left the option open to procure Su-57 in future if Russian is able to fix issues with the program.
India’s requirement for a Heavy class fifth generation fighter still remains, while India’s own Medium Multi-role AMCA 5th generation fighter program will progress to replace a large chunk of Mid-tier jets like Mirage-2000 and Jaguars fighters when it is ready for production somewhere in mid of the 2030’s.
IAF Chief till recently even said India’s AMCA will be the right candidate to replace Su-30s when they are due for retirement post-2050, but we are still decades away from that scenario while Lockheed Martin already has proposed building a hybrid F-22 Raptor/F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for Japan which it will be open to export to other countries who are already operating F-35A or want a new aircraft to replace their aging F-15 fleet.
Lockheed Martin knows that countries like Japan, Israel, and Australia, Saudi Arabia were actually interested in F-22 but due to export control restrictions set by US Congress, they had to be satisfied with F-35s. Lockheed’s hybrid offer is not finding much interest with the United States Air Force which clearly has set its eyes in 6th generation aircraft to replace F-22 in near future but a lot of close American allies feel that they will require more then F-35 if Chinese and Russians are able to mass produce their J-20 and Su-57 which can give serious competition to their F-35s.
Many allies who have brought F-35 and also operate F-15s want an aircraft which has better weapons load capability and longer legs so that new aircraft is able to perform even more advanced missions.
Lockheed’s hybrid offer
Proposed jet would involve taking the F-22 air frame and outfitting it with some of the F-35’s more advanced mission systems, though some structural changes could also be involved. Integrating F-35 and Japanese technology in F-22 air frame will not only be costly but can take up to 10 years for both to get it right before production begins.
Japan wants new Hybrid to replace its fleet of F-15J fighters and Lockheed is keen to get more partners in the project to reduce risk factors and also enhance its export potential without compromising its exports sales of its F-35s. If India could piggyback on its purchase it could lower cost to all parties only if the project is also viable for India and meets its requirements.
Hybrid F-22/F-35 will see more of Japanese technologies with F-35 technologies then Lockheed F-22 technology which were developed in the 80’s. A hybrid might look similar to F-22 in design but will have its own limitations in almost all fronts and will not feature a lot of sensitive components used in F-22s to make them super stealthy but with brains of F-35s, it will still be clearly head of Su-57 and J-20 in terms of advancement and stealth.