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A recent National Interest report has reignited the debate about India acquiring the F-35A fighter jet from the US, potentially replacing the ongoing Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) tender.

Last year’s Aero India airshow witnessed the first appearance of F-35s in India, leaving audiences “awestruck” according to CBS. This showcase, coupled with China’s growing assertiveness, has sparked discussions about the F-35’s role in India’s strategic partnership with the US. Retired Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur highlights the shift in geopolitical considerations.

The F-35’s stealth technology and advanced capabilities are undeniably attractive for India’s modernization plans to counter threats like China and Pakistan. However, Rear Admiral Michael L. Baker suggests India is still in the early stages of evaluation.

Acquiring the F-35 would mark a significant shift for India, traditionally reliant on Russia for military equipment. This historic dependence and India’s recent neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine conflict cast doubt on the feasibility of an F-35 deal.

Adding another layer of complexity is the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) prioritization of the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program. The IAF seems more invested in developing a domestic fifth-generation fighter than acquiring the F-35.

The F-35 presents a tempting proposition for India’s air defense needs. However, the path towards acquisition is riddled with obstacles, including geopolitical complexities, traditional ties with Russia, and the IAF’s focus on the AMCA program.