SOURCE: MANJUNATH REDDDY/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Recent media reports indicate that Indian Air force has asked Lockheed Martin to brief them F-35A for the possible purchase of more than 120 jets in what could be India’s first Stealth Combat jet clearly dumbing any possibility of manufacturing FGFA based on Russian 5th Generation Su-57 aircraft in India.
The author argued that falling prices of Bare bone F-35A makes it very attractive alternative when it is compared to expensive Dassault Rafale and FGFA both which cost over $100 million per unit. Lockheed Martin has confirmed that cost of F-35A will be below $80 million per unit cost in bare bone configuration by 2020 which seems lucrative for many Bureaucratic and Politicians back in India, but the question remains, can India really afford F-35A Ecosystem in long term ?.
Fact that Indian Air Force has never operated any American made fighter jet since independence and only later in last decade or so has acquired American made Transport aircraft like C-130J and C-17. Amercian jets come with their own Weapons Suites and key weapons systems like AIM-120C7, AIM-9X, Paveway IV, GBU-39, GBU-12, GBU-31, GBU-49 and AGM-154 which again India has never operated or acquired.
F-35A being a Low Observable (stealth) aircraft requires specially customised Weapons Suite to perform dogfight, provide close air support, execute long-range bombing attacks and some of this special ordinance plays a vital role in optimal usage of available stealth capabilities in the aircraft.
Many of the Current and future F-35A operators are quite familiar with American Ecosystem and have used same ordinances with older American jets which considerably reduce infrastructure and manpower expertise cost required to maintain and operate American developed fighter jets like F-35A.
Operating 120 F-35A will mean that many of IAF airbase not only need to be upgraded to facilitate this jet but will need to invest heavily in manpower to keep them operational both in the eastern and western sector.
F-35A for long and is still suffering from technical issues and in past has been grounded several times due to faulty ejection seats, software delays, helmet display issues, and its inability to dogfight. If it will take several few years before true potential of the F-35A can be unlocked.
Not only F-35A at present is problematic it will also come without any Transfer of Technology to India and is also unlikely to be even assembled in India. Customisation of locally developed Indian weapon system will most likely be also denied and as per media report, India will be only offered F-35 only if it completely withdrawals from Indo-Russian FGFA Program which will surely anger many in Russia which has been India’s long-lasting defence supplier.
Pulling out of FGFA for India will mean that cash trapped Russian might offer it to China which is very keen on acquiring few samples to make their locally developed J-20 5th generation fighter aircraft even more potent in long run. F-35A for India will not come as any game changer weapon system which will swing lost Air Superiority in the region for India from China.
India is far better off if it continues to invest in the development of Tejas MK-2 and work on AMCA, while also bail Russia out by ordering a small fleet of Su-57 in Russian configuration and with the procurement of additional Dassault Rafale.