The likely participation of the F-35 in the Bangalore air show comes amidst India developing its own fifth-generation stealth jet, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft

Indian military observers are surprised by the possible debut of the F-35 stealth fighter jet of the US Air Force at the Aero India 2023, being held in Bangalore from February 13 to 17. The fighter jet is expected to participate in both static and flying displays at the Indian Air Force’s Yelahanka airbase, the venue of the air show.

Indian defence scientists are already working on an indigenous stealth fighter jet, an airplane designed to avoid detection by enemy radars and air defence systems. The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a fifth-generation fighter with stealth features, is in an advanced stage of development, with the critical design review completed by the Aeronautical Development Agency of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation).

The AMCA project is critical for the IAF. The world’s fourth largest air force is grappling with a fast-depleting combat fleet, down to 31 squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 42.

The US government has not offered its stealth aircraft to any country so far. Its air force has the F-22 Raptor along with F-35 stealth jets, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

“The F-35 has never been offered to India. And now, when we (India) are so close to making our own stealth fighter jet, the US may pitch it for the Indian market,” predicted a military aviator, who believes that by getting the F-35 to participate in Aero India, the US may try to influence the Indian Navy’s upcoming procurement of fighter jets for aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. That jet deal is currently locked in a fierce competition between France’s Rafale-M and the F/A-18 Super Hornet of the US. The manufacturers of both aircraft claim to have satisfied the Indian Navy during technical demonstrations.

The AMCA project is in the last leg of securing approvals before entering the manufacturing stage. It will take India into an elite club of countries with fifth-generation stealth jets. The F-35 and F-22 Raptors of the US, the Su-57 Felon of Russia and Chinese J-20 are the only operational fifth-generation aircraft in the world.

Union minister of state for defence Ajay Bhatt has stated in Parliament that due to some very special features, fifth-generation fighter aircraft are costlier than their fourth-generation cousins. But the AMCA, being indigenous, would come cheaper than a similar imported aircraft.

In 2009, the Union government had allocated a meagre Rs 90 crore, followed by an additional Rs 447 crore, for a feasibility study for designing India’s future fighter jet. The initial development cost of the AMCA is anticipated to be around Rs 15,000 crore. In comparison, the F-22 Raptor cost around Rs 1.86 lakh crore and was developed over two decades (1983-2003) while development of the F-35 cost about Rs 1.06 lakh crore over 16 years (1995-2011).