SOURCE: TUSHKAR SHIRODKAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari might have opened Pandora’s box when he gave his blessing for the possibility of IAF considering the 5th gen platform for its requirements of 114 jets under the Multirole fighter aircraft (MRFA) competition. The F-35 lobby in India seems to have been triggered by the candid admission of the IAF Chief and already articles are coming out about why F-35 will be suitable over Rafale.
Lockheed Martin has offered its F-16V which has been rebadged as the F-21 as its contender under MRFA tender but it has zero chance of winning the contract from India for obvious reasons. Pentagon officials and the US administration have not authorized Lockheed Martin to offer an F-35 to India due to which intense lobbying was activated back in India for the last few years, which has been trying to create pressure in India so that India instead asks for F-35s from the United States.
If India puts requests or shows interest in acquiring 5th gen platform from any country that is willing to offer one that could mean Russia will step in and offer a Su-75 or Su-57 which could force the United States to counter this move and offer an F-35 in response to any offer made by Russia.
Reports of Lockheed Martin working on India-specific customized F-35S like the Israeli F-35 Adir has been going around and Lockheed has been sending feelers to the IAF for a while now. The order for 114 jets is not small when you consider that the biggest F-35 order outside USAF is coming from Japan which is planning a total of 147 jets with local production rights that’s just 33 units more than the possible Indian order if it materializes.
MRFA contract signing is not going to happen any time soon and when it does it will take another 5-6 years before contracted aircraft are manufactured and delivered to Indian Air Force which will shift the timeline to the late 20s. The lobby is already making a strong case for going with 5th gen aircraft rather than for a 4.5 gen aircraft when the world is already started work on the 6th jet program that will start emerging pretty soon.
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