US Senate has identified intelligence collection capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, 5G, fourth and fifth generation aircraft, and joint research and development, as areas for cooperation with India, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), in its version of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), has asked Pentagon to step up its engagement with India on issues of “emerging technologies, readiness and logistics” within 90 days of the passage of the legislation.

In 2016, the United States designated India as a Major Defense Partner. Commensurate with this designation, in 2018, India was elevated to Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status, which allows India to receive license-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the Department of Commerce.

Boeing recently was given clearance from the Pentagon to withdraw its offer of F-18 E/F and instead offer India its F-15 EX. Lockheed Martin has offered India its F-16V that for the Indian audience is been called F-21 but chances of Lockheed Martin closing the IAF deal for 114 jets are very slim first since it is operated by arch-rival Pakistan and second being that F-16 block 70 was previously offered under now canceled MMRCA tender had failed to clear technical round and also failed to met IAF requirements on many counts.

The latest version of the NDAA proposes that Pentagon will be cleared to offer India more American weapons, especially top-of-the-line products like the F-35 which was kept out of reach for India for some reasons. The House Armed Services Committee bill highlights that U.S. allies like India should be provided with weapons to defend against any new Chinese aggression.

China’s territorial expansion plans have created the concept of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) in the Indo-Pacific and after recent Chinese aggression in the region, it has seen forward movement between all participating countries with the odd one out being India still doesn’t operate American jets.

French Rafale is leading the competition and most likely will bag the contract even though India might go for reduced numbers due to the exorbitant cost of these jets. F-15EX being the same class as Su-30MKI and F-21 not being favored by IAF will ensure that American jets are likely to be rejected unless Lockheed clears the sale of F-35A and offers local Assembly of the jets without Transfer of technology.

IAF already has committed to procure nearly 126 AMCA 5th generation fighter jets from 2030 onwards that might enter service completely by 2042 still a long way to go. F-35A costs have fallen in the last few years due to an increase in production that has crossed the 300 unit mark for each year off late .while the operating cost is still high but that too will fall in the same range as F-15 in the next few years.

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