Bangalore — In the 27-year history of India’s Aero India 2023 show, the American presence this year is most palpable. Several American solutions were exhibited in Bangalore – the host city. But the presence of Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning-II and F-21 carried more than just symbolism.

There is speculation that the US is ready 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 jet are “at a very early stage”. These are the words of Rear Admiral Michael L. Baker, who is the Defence Attaché at the US Embassy in India.

Baker said there are discussions about the F-35 for India, but there is really nothing to say on the subject so far. He emphasized that India is a strategic partner of the US in the Indo-Pacific strategy of the White House.

There are no indications yet of the attitude of the government in New Delhi. Indian pilot, now retired, Captain TP Srivastava, however, does not see any use for the F-35 in the Indian Air Force or Navy. He sees maintenance costs as a major hurdle for India. Technologically, says the former pilot, the F-35 will not meet India’s requirements. “If I make the decision and the F-35 was to be offered to me for free, I won’t take it,” Srivastava says.

Srivastava points out some issues that at this stage are deterring its eventual acquisition. For example, problems with the stealth cover, the catapult seat, etc. 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 F-35 in India? Experts and analysts believe that this is a lure to New Delhi to withdraw from Russian influence in this area. Especially the combined presence of F-21 and F-35 is seen as such. Let us recall that the US is still in the game to sell the 114 multi-role fighter jets that India wants to buy. The F-21 is Lockheed’s proposal for this order.

The contract offered by India is tempting – it is nearly 20 billion USD. The US will do everything possible to win it because it is more than a mouthful taken from the share of Russian influence in India.

India is currently in a position that forces New Delhi to guarantee its defence against two neighbours – Pakistan and China. India can afford to buy Russian weapons without worrying about American sanctions. Washington could not afford to lose a multi-billion dollar market if stupidity and false morality prevailed and imposed sanctions under New Delhi’s CAATSA law.

Moreover, India, as an ally of the USA, was the only one that did not agree with the sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine. New Delhi not only rejected them but did not impose its own sanctions against the Russian Federation. This position of India can preserve the long-standing partnership and friendly relations with Russia.

And India’s position at the moment is a win-win – even if it buys F-21s from the US, Moscow will not be angry because it has failed to fulfil 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 delayed deliveries. Supplies that India needs right now because of its aforementioned neighbours.

This is exactly the role of the F-35/F-21 package at the Indian show. Washington reminds that it will not sue India for the purchase of Russian weapons, and is ready to deliver its own when Moscow cannot.

A similar logic can be found in the words of Major General Julian S. Cheater, Assistant Deputy Secretary for International Affairs of the United States Air Force. It hasn’t been long since he last spoke about India and the US partnership with that country. According to him, the Aero India 2023 exhibition is an opportunity for Washington to show New Delhi that it is ready to cooperation, for sharing technologies. The possibility that the US could supply US lethal weapons compatible with Indian interests and weapons systems.

The F-35/F-21 package must fight with the Russian Su-57 fighter and ROSOBORONEXPORT’s offering. The Russian news agency TASS says that there are already talks between Russia and India for the joint production of the Su-57. What stage they are at is currently unknown.