India, keen to update its primarily Soviet-era fighter fleet in order to increase its air force, is concerned about Russian supply delays resulting from the Ukrainian conflict and is under pressure from the West to distance itself from Moscow.
The week-long Aero India show in Bengaluru concludes this Friday with the largest US delegation in the show’s 27-year history, highlighting the strengthening strategic partnership between the United States and India.
By contrast, Russia, India’s largest arms supplier since the Soviet Union, has a nominal presence. Its state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, runs a joint booth with United Aircraft and Almaz-Antey, displaying miniature models of planes, trucks, radar and tanks.
In previous editions, Rosoboronexport held a more central position. However, Russia has not brought a fighter to Bengaluru for a decade after India began considering more European and American fighter jets.
Lockheed Martin’s F-21 (a plane only available in India) and an F-16 are in competition with Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornets to supply fighter jets for the Indian Navy’s second aircraft carrier. They debuted at Aero India 2019 and are also offered to the Indian Air Force.
Five years and rising tensions with China and Pakistan have delayed the Air Force’s decision on whether or not to purchase 114 multi-role fighter jets for $20 billion.
According to an Indian Air Force (IAF) source, the F-35 is not being considered by India “for now”, but the display of two F-35s at Aero India for the first time has been a sign of the growing strategic importance from New Delhi to Washington.
According to independent defence analyst Angad Singh, this is not “a sales pitch” but rather a reflection of the significance of the bilateral defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific area.
“Although arms sales are not the cornerstone of the relationship, there is cooperation and collaboration at the military level between India and the United States,” he added.
When it comes to sales of the F-35, the United States is picky. When asked if India will be offered the jet, US Embassy defense attaché Vice Admiral Michael L. Baker stated negotiations were in the “early stages” in New Delhi. An IAF spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about its interest in the F-35s.
State-run Russian media outlets said in the lead-up to the expo that Russia had sold New Delhi $13 billion worth of weaponry over the course of the previous five years and received orders totaling $10 billion.
Transport aircraft, Apache, Chinook, and MH-60 helicopters, missiles, air defense systems, naval guns, and planes have all been part of the roughly $6 billion in arms sales the United States has approved for India over the past six years. Poseidon P-8I, in this case, is conducting surveillance.
India also plans to increase domestic defense production in partnership with international powerhouses to supply domestic demand and sell high-tech weapon platforms abroad.