US may allow India to buy F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Thursday, January 27, 2011

WASHINGTON - The United States may allow India to participate in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme and eventual purchase of its fifth generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter, according to a top Pentagon official.

“There is nothing on our side, no principle which bars that on our side, Indian participation in the Joint Strike Fighter. Right now, they’re focused on these aircraft which are top-of-the-line fourth-gen fighters,” Pentagon acquisitions Chief Ashton Carter said Wednesday.

However, the decision to pursue the F-35 is India’s alone, he said speaking at the release of a report by the Carnegie

Endowment’s Ashley Tellis on India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) programme.

Later Pentagon spokesperson Cheryl Irwin told in an e-mail that “If, at some point down the road, India were interested in purchasing JSF from us, then we would engage the Indians in an open, transparent manner at that time.

“But this would obviously be something that the Indian government would have to decide it wanted or needed.”

The Indian contract calls for the purchase of 126 fighters and is valued at more than $10 billion, Carter said. Competitors include the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Mikoyan MiG-35.

Carter touted the American-built F-16 and F/A-18 as being the most technologically advanced aircraft in the


“I think that, without saying anything disparaging about the other entrants, both F/A-18 and the F-16 offers include the best technology,” he said.

Tellis echoed Carter’s comments, saying the two US competitors offered the best capability for the lowest price. Of particular interest to India are the American fighters’ Active Electronically Scanned Array radars (AESA), he said.

The European and Russian aircraft do not currently have operational AESA radars available. The US military, meanwhile, is currently operating its second generation of AESA radars.

The most important factors in any Indian decision will likely be technology transfer and industrial participation, Carter said.

Carter also stressed the importance of lifecycle costs because 70 percent of a weapon’s total cost resides in not in the initial purchase price, but rather in sustainment. According to Tellis, both the F-16 and F/A-18 offer the lowest lifecycle costs out of the aircraft on offer.

Carter also stressed the importance of transparency. “I’m committed to in our process, both with respect to India and in our own internal processes, an open and transparent process, and I think we can promise the Indian government that,” he said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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