Is The F-35 a decoy for India to steer clear of the Russian Su-57?

WASHINGTON, USA — In the 27-year history of the Aero India 2023 show, the American presence this year was most palpable. In Bangalore, the host city, various American solutions were put on display. But the presence of Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II and F-21 carried more than just symbolism.

There is speculation that the United States is willing to talk to India about its desire for a fifth-generation fighter jet. Senior US officials even confirm these speculations. Decisions on whether India wants to have a fifth-generation fighter are “at a very early stage.” These are the words of Rear Admiral Michael L. Baker, Defense Attaché at the US Embassy in India.

Baker said there are talks about the F-35 for India, but there is nothing to say on the matter. He stressed that India is a strategic partner of the US in the Indo-Pacific strategy of the White House.

There is still no indication of the attitude of the New Delhi government. However, Capt. TP Srivastava, a retired Indian pilot, sees no use for the F-35 in the Indian Air Force or Navy. He sees maintenance costs as a major hurdle for India. Technologically, the former pilot says the F-35 will not meet India’s requirements. “If I made the decision and they offered me the F-35 for free, I wouldn’t take it,” Srivastava says.

Is The F-35 a decoy for India to steer clear of the Russian Su-57?
Is The F-35 is a decoy for India to steer clear of the Russian Su-57?

Srivastava points out some problems that are deterring his eventual acquisition at this stage. For example, problems with the stealth cover, the catapult seat, etc. All the problems that has been describing in recent years. Let’s not forget that it’s still unclear whether Lockheed was able to eliminate the plane’s 13 key problems from a list of more than 800 complaints.

So why talk about the F-35 in India? Experts and analysts believe that it is a lure for New Delhi to move away from Russian influence in this area. Especially the combined presence of F-21 and F-35 is considered so. Let’s remember that the US is still in the game to sell the 114 multi-role fighters that India wants to buy. The F-21 is Lockheed’s proposal for this order.

The contract offered by India is tempting: almost 20,000 million dollars. The US will do everything it can to earn it because it is more than a morsel out of India’s share of Russian influence.

India is currently in a position that forces New Delhi to guarantee its defense against two neighbors: Pakistan and China. Let’s remember that India can afford to buy Russian weapons without worrying about US sanctions. Washington cannot afford to lose a multi-billion dollar market if stupidity and false morals prevail and impose sanctions under New Delhi’s CAATSA.

Is The F-35 a decoy for India to steer clear of the Russian Su-57?

Furthermore, as an ally of the United States, India was the only one to disagree with the sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine. New Delhi rejected them and did not impose its own sanctions against the Russian Federation. This position of India can preserve the long association and friendly relations with Russia.

And India’s current position is a win-win: even if it buys F-21s from the US, Moscow will not be angry that it has not fulfilled its commitments to India since the fall of the war in Ukraine. Thus, New Delhi will be able to prefer an American fighter without even having to justify its decision, but only to remind Moscow of the delivery delay. Supplies that India needs right now because of its aforementioned neighbors.

This is exactly the role of the F-35/F-21 package in the Indian salon. Washington reminds that he will not sue India over the purchase of Russian arms and that he is willing to hand over his when Moscow cannot.

A similar logic can be found in the words of Major General Julian S. Cheater, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs of the United States Air Force. It hasn’t been long since he last spoke about India and America’s association with that country. 

According to him, the Aero India 2023 expo is an opportunity for Washington to show New Delhi that it is willing to cooperate, to share technologies. The possibility of the US supplying lethal weapons compatible with Indian interests and weapons systems.

The F-35/F-21 package must fight with the Russian Su-57 fighter and the offer from Rosoboronexport. As we already reported, the Russian news agency TASS claims that there are already talks between Russia and India for the joint production of the Su-57. It is currently unknown what phase they are in.