Buy a fighter for war, not air shows - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 1 November 2010

Buy a fighter for war, not air shows

The Indian Navy has asked Lockheed Martin for briefings on the F-35 as a future option for its aircraft carriers. The vendor believes that both the F-35B (STOVL) and the F-35C (catapult launched variant) are operable from IN carriers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Nov 10

A firestorm of criticism from hundreds of indignant netizens followed my last column (“Scrap the MMRCA, buy US F-35s”, October 19, 2010), which argued that the Indian Air Force is blundering in buying a 4th Generation Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) just a couple of years before Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter enters operational service. Given that the IAF will operate its 126 MMRCAs till about 2050, anything short of today’s cutting edge would become irrelevant long before that.

Broadly speaking, the critics’ arguments were: the F-35 is not designed as a high-speed fighter (true); its primary role is striking ground targets and is, therefore, merely a “bomb truck” (Churchill might have said: “ Some truck! Some bombs!!”); the F-35 is many years away from operational readiness (false); it is too expensive (depends on how you calculate); and, of course, the unsurprising, “Goddamit! We can’t trust the Yanks.”

Since my previous 900-word article could hardly cover all corners of this $10-billion question, I shall stay on this subject this week and outline the military realities and doctrinal issues that must shape the IAF’s decision.
What are India’s foreseeable security threats and how must the IAF respond? While Pakistan remains a lingering hangover, especially in its embrace of cross-border terrorism, it is diminishing as a full-blown military threat to India. The IAF’s most likely missions against Pakistan centre on air-to-ground strikes: punitive raids against terrorist camps or ISI locations, perhaps in retaliation for yet another terrorist outrage; or pre-emptive strikes against Pakistani ballistic missiles when a nuclear launch against India seems imminent.

A devastating ground strike capability is also primary for contingencies on the China border. With Beijing relentlessly developing roads and railways to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already built, and is increasing, the ability to amass an invading force faster than the Indian Army can rush in troops to defend the threatened area. With an attack imminent, or some Indian territory already captured, New Delhi’s immediate response will inevitably centre on air strikes against PLA forward troops and the routes on which their logistics — ammunition, fuel, food, water and medical care — depend. In the 1962 debacle, one of New Delhi’s most unforgivable, and inexplicable, blunders was to abjure the use of air power. This time around, as evident from the rapid creation of IAF infrastructure along the China border, India’s first response will be with air strikes.

Given these requirements, it is evident that the IAF needs powerful ground strike capabilities. But the fighter pilots who dominate the pinnacle of the IAF (and every other air force) have a special fascination for “air supremacy fighters”, those glamorous machines that incestuously dogfight with enemy fighters during war and mesmerise air-show audiences with aerobatics during peace. The IAF has traditionally focused less on enemy ground troops and more on that fighter-jock ambition, shooting down enemy fighters in air-to-air duels. The Indian Army has long remonstrated with the IAF over the latter’s airy neglect (pun unintentional) of the crucial ground war.

The MMRCA procurement reflects this bias: the IAF’s tender emphasises air-to-air combat capabilities — speed, rate of climb, turn rate, etc. — with ground strike capability a mere side benefit. Already deficient in air-to-ground strike power, the IAF’s two major fighters under development — the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) — are primarily air supremacy fighters. The third fighter in the pipeline, the MMRCA, cannot share the same bloodline. Instead, procuring a top-notch strike aircraft — and the F-35 is the undisputed king of this realm — will equip the IAF to contribute to the war effort where it matters the most.

To mask its ideological proclivity for air superiority fighters, the IAF argues that the “multi-role” MMRCA can also strike enemy ground forces. Strike it can, but nowhere as effectively as the F-35, which is designed ground-up for this role. To use an athletics analogy, decathletes hurl the discus, throw the javelin, and also sprint 100 metres. None of them, however, achieve world standards in each of these events.

The army has not forgotten the IAF’s irrelevance during the Kargil conflict. When IAF fighters should have been supporting assaulting infantry by hammering Pakistani positions with air strikes, fire support came almost exclusively from the army’s own guns. Meanwhile, the IAF was searching for a way to equip its Mirage-2000s (an MMRCA!) to deliver bombs accurately onto mountaintops. Without a world-class, customised strike fighter like the F-35, this sorry saga could be replayed some day on the Sino-Indian border.

Another argument fallaciously made, against the F-35, is that its design — optimised for ground strike — renders it vulnerable to predatory enemy fighters. In fact, owing to its stealth capabilities, US Air Force combat simulations have found the F-35 the equal in air-to-air combat of four fighters of the 4th Generation, which the IAF is now procuring.

Finally, New Delhi must be clearer about its threats and opportunities. The US sale of F-35s to Israel, and its willingness to condone the retro-fitment of Israeli avionics and weaponry illustrate Washington’s strategy of building up clearly friendly countries against clear long-term threats. Just as it is supporting the creation of capabilities against Iran’s nuclear programme, the US will equally facilitate capabilities against China’s growing militarism. Furthermore, an F-35 procurement by India would dramatically dissipate the suspicions that currently dog US-India defence relations.

But the basic argument for the F-35 remains Indian self-interest. Tomorrow’s IAF must be a comprehensively 5th Generation force, using custom-designed aircraft for specific operational tasks. In the US Air Force, the F-22 Raptor obtains air superiority; meanwhile, US ground forces are supported by the F-35 joint strike fighter. The IAF cannot fall short on either of these counts. With the 5th Generation FGFA, an air superiority fighter, perhaps a decade away, the IAF must obtain a war-winning advantage from a matching strike fighter: the F-35.


  1. Ajai, the relationship between India and U.S has not strong enough for any fighters from the U.S be it the F-35, leave alone the F-18 or F-16. Indians will not dare go for U.S fighters. The only available option is the Rafale. It's stealth features are also top notch and is smaller more stealthier than the Typhoon. Can carry more load.

  2. Hmm Very thought provoking. You have raised many relevant points.

  3. Increasingly i see that you have started formulating strategies and pushing for those strategies, ones which our Armed forces are very capable off.This is kind of taking my intrest away from your blog which i am still a big fan off.

  4. India should rather cancel the Tejas program, start work on the MCA. And induct JSFs as an interim measure.


    i got some nice assessments about the jsf in this page. its is not entirely conformational but worth reading.

  6. Ladies n Gents,

    This is exactly what I had in mind in my comment posted to Ajai's previous article!
    He has now articulated it superbly....but then thats his job:))

    The F-35 should be inducted, but in small numbers- say 2 squadrons worth as la the Mirage 2000s (we wont get more anyway to start with). Any Indian order, howsoever small will be taken very seriosuly as it has the potential to grow manifold in the years to follow.

    Do not cancel the MMRCA!! Instead, take the best one in the field that is early on in its "design life cycle" to last the longest for us.

    Ajai....if your article manages to cancell MMRCA, that will be sad and frustrating. Just imagine the delays and the impact thereof. Why dont you write an article on this also - impact of cancalling MMRCA due to delays that will surely follow with any F-35 inducton in meaningfull numbers (even if the 4:1 equation holds true)?

    Ajai...If instead your article creates an opening for the F-35 induction IN ADDITION TO THE MMRCA, then I will rally all us Broadsword followers to do salami to you::) As will LM.

    Nice day all. got to get back to work now...


  7. Nice!!Very Nice, I still have my doubts but very strong points indeed. This is the army's point of view coming through. And why not? All three arms specifically IAF and IA cannot work in isolation. My doubts specifically are:
    1] Though ground troop support is crucial air superiority is critical to protect high value installations against air attacks. For this we must be assured of air superiority at least over our own skies, otherwise national morale can go downhill very quickly.
    2]. The army does have its own air arm and could soon be provided with attack choppers[AH64?? LCH].
    3]. As a nation that cannot spend freely we should first look at battlefield superiority and then supply logistics denial to the enemy. Would not precision guided missiles being developed go at least some way in acheiving that objective?

  8. i dont think uncle sam will share jsf technology when it comes to technology transfer. and us is a very unreliable partner and should not be trusted

  9. Anon@10.12
    You may agree or disagree with Ajai's argument, but surely you do not believe that the armed forces are a holy cow whose decision-making is beyond question?

    You are as entitled to formulate and push strategies as Ajai is. Or do you think we should leave all thinking to bureaucrats, generals and politicians?

  10. F35 will only be available to india after 2015 or more as they have to first manufacture for their own partners & then india comes..regarding china,i think even a eurofighter or rafale can do that work with ease in comparison to F35 which looks to be another maintenance heavy aircraft..will india get to put any of their own upgrades in F35..israel is not being allowed to add EW..we seem to be jumping on the 5thgen wagon too fast..if u want to be future proof,the argument could go with IAF buying UCAV'S....

  11. Ajai jee you forgot about MKI.. which can drop more bombs compared to F-35... Further we are expecting AMCA in 1.5-2 decades which is designed for the role you are talking... And you mentioned that Tejas is primarily Air superiority .. But if you see the design for MK-2 it has been expanded for the action of Multi-role...
    Of all the conclusion we have to procure a real Air superiority Fighter because MKI can do SEAD operations and carpet bombing well because of huge Pay load... So F-35 is of no use in our Inventory...
    So combination is
    PAK-FA/MMRCA--> Air superiority/SEAD operation
    MKI/AMCA-->Primary Ground attack and deep strike fighting/SEAD operation and Secondry Air superiority
    Tejas-->Primary Inceptor secondary Ground Bombing..

    Because you can see MKI is configured for Brahmos stuff which proves its swing role effectively

    This will save our effort and money.. so currently the stop gap is Air superiority Primary role and secondry role of SEAD operation is the real requirement

  12. look bro...I agree that we need a fighter like F-35, but dont 4get we r going to buy from US....if u want to have F-35 with all high tech equipments they will give us 100pacts to sign in ...with out signing them, US will give us only the shells of F-35...
    other thing is Canada is buying 65 F-35 for 16 Billion$ think about out our 126 it will be over 32 Billion...dont forget that we already paid more than 30 Billion deal for FGFA....
    India is still a developing contry after alll

  13. But sir can JSF carry enough air to ground weaponry without compromising its stealth?? It cant...!! for strike purpose we have MKI. The Su30MKI has better range,more hardpoints,heavier weapon loadout and second pilot who can take care of air to ground.I am not against procuring a strike aircraft in MMRCA,but not JSF.And we already have a 5th gen fighter in the form of FGFA and for strike purpose the AMCA.Even the americans have kept aside the F15E the srike eagles for the same purpose.

  14. India is developing a fith generation aircraft with russia the FGFA and another project AMCA is under consideration.

    With F-35, India will not achieve anything extraordinary compared to the FGFA or AMCA; but will haev to accept the pacts "essential" for procurement. For the requirement of 126 "stop gap" fighters, F-35 seems too expensive. It wont add any value to IAF apart from numbers.

  15. I see a point in what Col. Shukla is saying. We need an aircraft that will serve us in the next decade. As regards transfer for technology, I am tired of this argument. I think we are at a point that we can develop 90% of the technologies on our own. It just requires better program management, involvement of private sector and a will to achieve. Given the wealth of knowledge gained from LCA (even if you consider it as a failure), we should be able to develop most-if-not-all components on our own. We need a honest assessment of our own strengths and weaknesses (neither optimistic nor pessimistic).

  16. Ajay,

    Again, IF WE ORDER TODAY. When do we realistically get our first one. Production cycles are full. Also, We are not Israel. We will not get on their priority basis. The First JSF if we order we will get around 2022-2023, by an realistic calculations. That in itself is the biggest dampner for JSF


  17. One thing for sure if MMRCA is scraped and F-35 selected then the navy will have the option for more such aircraft also the technicans will be able to service the aircraft better as common aircraft. having said so we become more prone to American sanctions also the US prez is indicating more support to Pak and also oppose to Outsourcing Exactly from where is India suppose to pay for the parts and also take repeated blows from the Pak. Best Option is to Look into a Plane that can be customized to take on a any Stealth also be less expensive and less prone to sanctions an aircraft that can play vital role besides SU-30 MKI (Super Sukhoi after the induction of new radar and avionics and engine) MCA/FA-FGA(PAK-FA)we do not want a plane as expensive as the Su30 that will be no sense

  18. The same arguments can be used to support any reduced signature ground strike aircraft. Though there is merit in what you say. It will still boil down to a situation where the main debating points will be how much can we contribute. Increasingly the (mis)government pays only lip service to locally made armaments though they do need time and exposure to develop unique solutions to problems, but they also need a customer willing to use it. The IAF and by extantion the naval air arm need a 5th gen fighter, and yes the f-35 fits the role nicely. But ask your self in america's position would you sell it to India and do so thinking like the power structure of the white house.

  19. The JSF is not yet in service, yet you say "In the US Air Force, the F-22 Raptor obtains air superiority; meanwhile, US ground forces are supported by the F-35 joint strike fighter.". This is clearly a disingenuous piece of misinformation.

    The F-35 will carry a total of 2 bombs internally in stealth mode. It loses its stealth if it carries bombs externally. The F 35 will have a great sensor and comm suite - which would be useful only if all other Indian forces had the same hardware to share the information.

    Clearly you have not the the amount of homework that I and a lot of other enthusiasts have done. You are, I am afraid, getting carried away by the F-35 hype and have done no analysis of the impact the purchase of the F-35 will have on Indian industry negative or positive.

    I have not lost my respect for you. You have yet to gain my respect. This is shoddy work.

  20. So in your world of strategic procurement, you only consider the aircraft currently being procured, and not the rest that are already available?

    Please do note that without air superiority, the Indian Army's logistics is vulnerable. And given that the bandwidth we have is much lower, the miserable physical infrastructure being the cause, any denial of these routes will be fatal to the Army's plans. In this scenario, air superiority by the IAF is a must, and the decisions they're making are appropriate.

    Comparisons with the USAF are puerile since the IAF does not enjoy their budget, nor does it enjoy the luxury of two huge oceans separating it from possible enemies.

    I enjoyed reading your articles on the Arjun because you were in your element there, as can be expected. I'm sorry to say that you're out of your depths here, and flailing.

  21. Ajai,

    I have to disagree with your opinion that IAF has "always" concentrated on A-to-A supremacy fighters.

    The only fighter in IAF's current inventory which can be called as only A2A is Mig-29 and non-upgraded Mig-21.

    Note even the upgraded Mig-21 Bison has substantial A2G capabilities(LGB, TV guided etc).

    Mirage 2000,(LGB attacks in Kargil)
    Mig-27 has always been A2G. Now upgraded
    The Jags! as it says DPS(deep penetration strike)

    SU-30 A HUGE bomb truck!

    Even the LCA can be certified for A2G before firing BVR's!

    Oh by the way AN-32's as well!

    IAF has more than enough A2G capabilities. Now it has to concentrate on a ability to concentrate this A2G firepower.
    Hence it needs to concentrate on acquiring system which cripple enemy's ability to defend against IAF strikes.

  22. I get it.

    F-35 giving air support to the army:

    To twist the kipling poem (Arithmetic on the Frontier):
    hundred million dollars of stealth
    Drops to 1000 rupee anti-air.

  23. Ajay,

    Read another article after yours, by galrahn on Information dissemination. It suggests that the F-35 is going to cost on an average, 120 million $ per plan - which will easily be the cost of 3 of these MMRCAs.

    Is it still worth that premium?
    And can we *afford* to buy enough for quality to overcome quantity?

    Here's the link to the piece:

  24. Has anybody seen f-35 really flying... or in the graphic version of f-35 in a movie... it's all gas... the financial crisis has brought the f-35 and f-22 to a grinding halt... pentagon is out to source (if you beg for funding... people will say it is inferior product so...) money from rich goverments to maintain their often said edge "The illusion of having the edge"...

  25. I'm benithisrael. Reach me at
    Dear Mr. Shukla, I must tell u, i'm an admirer of yours. Your news always seem bang on target, from arjun of drdo to making antony the scrape goat, that was until you quoted eurojet's bid as lowest and DRDO evaluation proved otherwise. May be you had direct access to the eurojet vendor and now he seemed to have left India in a hurry, since his company wouldn't pay his bills anymore or just GOI didn't want CBI to begin an arrest, a diplomatic row with europe and another hdw scandanl.
    I could be way off of course. So are you in courting india to join the f-35 jsf programme instead of pursuing the mmrca competition. Perhaps its time for a reality check.
    To arrive at the optimal subjective and objective solution, we must analyse the facts throughly. To arrive at the proper conclusion, we may twist theories to suit facts but not facts to suit theories
    1.mmrca was originally mrca, the mirage with 6 tons of payload but with western avionics, precision guided weapons and reliability was perhaps the Iaf's overwhelming choice, but unlike the DRDO and IN which had the leadership and resolve to push through sole source partnership in weapons development and procurement from Israel. IAF lacked both, initially in late 1990, the mirage was rejected in favor of the su-30 mki which the IAF now holds dear as the l1 bidder. This could have been the reason too behind CAG and other agencies involved in not giving in to the IAF and asked for requirements which may be thrown open to a competition internationally.
    2. tejas flies in 2001.Fast forward 5 years, kaveri engine fails test, only basic look up and down mode of pulse doppler radar working, squadron numbers down by 6.5. the MoD has now reason enough to pursue MRCA. From the words of an IAF spokesperson whose name I don't seem to recall "when we asked for an aircraft, to bridge the shortfall in squadrons, we were told to wait for the lca tejas" this has been the prime justification for MRCA upto today.
    3. I do not know if you are a passionate shiv aroor blog's follower, but perhaps this article of his might interest you
    Unlike the IN which defended the scorpene and Goskov acquisitions with full backing, the IAF has still not answered questions such as this from the media about Mmrca and tejas nor has it specified what role this new plane is meant for- Strike?- then why is there a separate weapon system operator on su-30 Mki. if prototypes such as gripen ng and mig-35 were given a chance, what did Tejas ever do to the IAF to deserve this step child treatment?
    4. A sudden fetish for American due to aesa-, while the rfi was for f-16 bk52 the Us fields super viper variant. Boeing enters the run up fields the super hornet with apg-79. The rules of engagement were changed forever. Now IAF didn't just want a fighter to fill up squadrons but also a top notch plane that features the latest innovation so that they can save their ego from a future comparison of the procured aircraft with Hal tejas.

  26. 5. Perhaps if the IAF may not answer to the media, atleast it bears responsibility to answer the questions posed by a man in its sister service namely vice admiral Raman puri
    don't mistake me for a ratshak fan, i just visit the news column.
    He may have been blunt on the following "the Iaf only needs updated su-30 and lca tejas" what he probably meant was use technology to enhance as much performance in collaboration with Russians for e.g to use composites to lighten the aircraft so that that its aerodynamic performance improves without the need for thrust improvemt of the engine. Already the mig-35 campaign has got its radar into this proposed upgrade. The IAF contests its stand as fighters such as rafale, eurofighter and super hornet fit inbetween su-30 mki and lca tejas in a middle tier, they must really take us for suckers. The su-27 was designed in early 1980s with huge not so fuel efficient engines deliverin thust at t/w 7-8 requiring the bird and such its lineage types such as su-30 for carrying 8 tons of payload such long distances to weigh 36 tons at max take off, its been 20 year since then carbon fibre composite and fibre glass composites have reduced aircraft weight considerably, engines have become smaller yet deliver as much power at t/w of 9-10, not to mention strict western aviation standards on fuel efficiency which results in fuel economic engines these factors combined have shrunk europeon aircraft sizes and with structural rigidity resulting from composites have low drag hence better aerodynamic performance than su-30,the rafale has too much french written all over it three loading classes, under powered omni-role, sorry there is already an omni models in our roads, so no need for a flying one thank you, the french probably have outdone themselves here too. if composites developed by NAL could be used to optimise su-30 further, there isn't an iota of doubt that it would outdo its europeon peers. The super hornet nearly the same as the rafale in performance by rough data, but is the wrost choice there could be, except on the price front, a heavy fighter in empty weight, payload and range barely misses the max take of 30 tons and hence claims to be a medium fighter, crap.

  27. Ajai,do u really think we will get 126 5th Gen fighter for $11-12Bn including TOT for AESA...

  28. Ajai Sir,
    1)Is it too late ? Will oD scrap the tender now or will they do something on Obama's visit ?Hope P.V.Naik & A.K.Antony has a change of mind.

    2)I just read from Shiv Aroor's livefist that ADA's gonna start work on LCA mk2. You could prod our scientists [through broadsword]to make lca mk2 have better ground strike capability than mk1 & at least comparable to the JSF.

  29. Col Shukla,

    Your writing exhibits a marked distortion of reality and knowledge as far as the air to ground battle is concerned.

    But it is good of you to write and exhibit this failing; some of us felt there was hope in your efforts.

    I am tempted to amplify, but seeing your reluctance to debate, I rest.

    We forgive you, for you know not...


    65 FIGHTER AIRCRAFTS FOR $8.5Bn...Do the math

  31. Sir,

    Hats-off for an excellent debate put forward. It is a fairly "radical" (I personally think so) suggestion, with some good points. I, however, am against India acquiring the JSF.

    We must understand USA's requirement of the fighter. The Americans (after 2 recent conflicts) have mastered the art of (what I would say in a layman's terms) "bomb-and-occupy" method. Cruise missiles precede helicopter/aircraft bombing of targets. This is followed by armour and mechanised infantry, with heavy air support (aircraft/helicopters). As you can see, there is a rather heavy requirement of fighters for ground support. Fighters like the JSF.

    Then we ask, where does the need for air superiority fighters come in? We must look at America's geo-political scenario. USA has NO direct threats to its homeland (that is in terms of a full fledged attack, such as those on Iraq, Afganistan). Offshore threats are few (they have a habit of making enemies when there arent any!!), but again the role of aircraft will be as mentioned above (ground support). No nation with a formidable air force (Russia, China, these are the only 2 that came to my mind) would get into conflict with USA, simply because the implications would be unimaginable (we are talking not only military, but economics too). So there goes the "major" need for air-superiority aircraft (for the USA that is).

    India's requirement is somewhat different. Pakistan is operating a fairly good air-force (yes, its true), and the war against them (God-forbid, I am a peace loving man!!) we will face an air-force operating F-16's and such (JF-17, J-10, dont know how good they are, but with the Chinese involved they wouldnt be too bad). So, over here air-superiority fighters are NEEDED.

    there's more......

  32. Looking from China's point of view (this I am pretty sure will never happen, simply because of the negative economic implications for China, and India of course), the Chinese have well developed their supply routes and have "dug-in" at the border. Yes, the ground-support/attack fighters have a major role here, but again, we will have to counter the Chinese planes first. It is of priority to first dominate the air, before going for any ground strikes. And its not the case that we do not have land attack fighters, or that the MMRCA fighter do not have ground strike capability. Once air superiority is won and land based threats eliminated (AA guns, SAM etc), the situation couldn't get better !!

    Now some cons of getting the JSF. America's most advanced fighter!! That would involve some heavy deal signing (including the one that allows them to use our bases; if I'm not wrong there was something like this, could someone mention the name, is it the CISMOA?). And suppose, we do get the aircraft with all its latest equipment, in 20 years, many fighters in the world will be operating similar technologies (maybe even before if the EADS has its way, but I'm focusing on our immediate neighbors for now). But the Americans, they have the ability to constantly upgrade their equipment (did you know development of M1 Abrams and the Arjun started simultaneously, and that the first Abrams came into service in 1980, and also, not 1 Abrams tank has been produced since 1991; I hope you understand the point I am trying to deliver). After 20 years of service, the aircraft that was the JSF (at induction) and the aircraft that is th JSF will be rather different. The Americans rectify the mistake, add in lessons learnt from conflicts, get some new research/development etc. If we are to buy the JSF, we will not have access to this equipment (America does not let any nation have at-par technologies, even their "best-est" of friends). So, 20 years after induction of JSF by the Indian air-force, it would be just another plane (with some lagging in performance I believe) with technology being flown by many other major air-forces in the world (read China).

    theres a little more.....

  33. (the comment size need to be increased!!!)
    contd again.....

    So is it really worth while going ahead with this deal. The cost involved are enormous, the time is long and the political implications uncertain. If India hopes that upon purchase of maybe the JSF, USA will hold its hand, sorry, Uncle Sam only looks at national interest (as far as 50 years henceforth!!). And there is no certainity what all will America put on the table if we do ask for the JSF. I personally think it will be a fairly stripped down one (with America promising more, maybe, with signing of I dont know what-not).

    I really do not know the role of Naval fighter so I wont venture there. I hope I have covered most of the points that came to my mind and given a point-of-view worthy of read. These views are of a young citizen, with little/no experience in military matters, so please forgive any discrepancies.


  34. I disagree with all attackers of ajai Shukla.

    At least he brought in a whiff of fresh air to a lame duck debate (which MMRCA).

    And the argument is relevant..


  35. @benithisrael -1553 hrs

    Some real good points raised pertaining to the existing structure of the air-force. I am going to copy this comment and keep it with me ;)

    I sort of agree on one point of yours, instead of always looking for new aircraft (and thus new training etc) we should work on bettering existing models too. that way we would get an advanced aircraft, at lower cost (maybe?), quicker, and we would be operating a uniform-ish fleet (as in we have old fighters and their upgraded/advanced models). I really think there is substance when the air chief about the various aircraft being operated by the air-force.

  36. Well Shukla Ji:
    The critics argument is the very opposite to what you are responding to.

    The argument is:
    - F-35 is not a good strike fighter/bomb truck, severely limited internal volume for carrying multiple PGMs, not cheap enough to provide air support.

    - F-35 is not a good fighter, its not fast enough, not enough fuel, no F-22 size large radar, limited missiles in internal carriage, not a high altitude flyer.

    For an example:
    In your PRC Vs. India Himalayan showdown,
    F-35s in a limited-stealthy-internal air to ground weapons layout will take over a thousand sorties to make an impact on the war, by that time lacking numerical strength in men and equipment we would have already lost Arunachal Pradesh.

    I think a better justification is this:

    F-35 has a inherent advantage over the MMRCA and the FGFA, it is a flying electronic listening post.

    In a PRC warfare scenario where Su-30s and FGFA keep the skies clear, the F-35 can through its passive sensors map out all hostile early warning(search) radars, fire control(SAMs) radars and counter battery(artillery) radars.

    In this limited SEAD/DEAD role:
    the limited load of the F-35 is not a problem, and the generational gap between western avionics and Russian/Indian Avionics is an advantage.

  37. Now I am convinced that:

    (1) MMRCA must be hastened.

    (2) MMRCA in no case shall be increased beyond 126 Nos.

    (3) Additionally 30 to 50 Nos of F-35 or Rafale (If Rafale.NE.MMRCA) shall be purchased to eliminate the Pak silos and flatten the bridges at Tibet even when working in parallel.

  38. Ajai has a point. Clearly IAF lacks in dedicated Bombers(eg: B1 Lancer) and conventional close air support fighters(eg: A10 Thunderbolt II). Only it has Jaguars and Mirages to do the job respectively. For bombing Jaguars are not as capable as conventional bombers. IAF harbours only precision strikes and stresses on air-superiority. So untill and unless DRDO rolles out a conventional bomber IAF must select a fighter from MMRCA or be the F-35 which has the best capability of delivering precision air to ground munitions and as well be a close air support fighter(It may not be a air superiority fighter as bombers are always escorted by air superiority/capable fighters). Truly IAF needs a conventional bomber.

  39. I see someone has already pointed out the increase in costs. Pointing out some more links that the Lockheed Martin PR guys forgot to mentions:

    Pentagon May See Higher F-35 Costs, Delays Up to Three Years

    Some excerpts from the above:

    Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s costliest program, may see more price increases and new schedule delays of as much as three years, two government officials familiar with the matter said.
    The $50 billion development phase may cost as much as $5 billion more, and Pentagon analysts now estimate the JSF may be as much as 1 1/2 times more expensive to maintain than the warplanes it will replace, according to preliminary estimates in Venlet’s review, the officials said.

    Cost of F-35 Has Risen 60% to 90%, Military Says

    Some eye catching stuff:

    Christine H. Fox, the Pentagon’s top cost evaluator, said at Thursday’s hearing that the estimated price of each F-35 had jumped to $80 million to $95 million, as measured in 2002 dollars, from $50 million when Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract in 2001.

    She said her office was still refining the cost estimate, which equals $95 million to $113 million for each plane in current dollars.

    DoD: We'll Buy Fewer F-35s if Costs Keep Rising

    An aircraft which is optimized for stealth, can carry only four missiles in the AA mode. They can also carry extra bombs but it will no longer be stealthy. Given its limited maneuverability, it is a dud on arrival. Maybe for US which has a big budget and can afford to have stealth bombers, it pays to have JSAF.

    As per links above, it is costly to buy, costly to maintain, and the returns on such investments is hard to justify when the program itself is delayed by more than four years and its full capabilities yet to be revealed.

    The US companies are known for the PR glitz, and wine and dine efforts to showcase their products, and it is beginning to show! I guess all those free trips to US wasn't free after all :)

  40. Four decades no war, shelf life of most of our armaments is kaput. (there will be no war between india-Pakistan - Musharaf) So why buy billions n billions of dollars worth of foreign equipment and bankrupt our nation just as Soviet Union did? Despite parliament n 26-11 attacks and several others, coward CONgressi Indians are yet to take Pakistan head on.

    Its a pity that India has not tackled Naxal-Maoist menace, yet spending billions of Dollars on defense purchases as if there is no tommorow!

    India´s trade deficit is 100 billion (Export 180-B Import 288-B). After 10 years India will be like Pakistan, in a IMF-WB-ADB hole who is living beyond means.

    Then, India has many Mir Jafers (sleeper cells) within, who want to convert India into Dar-ul-Islam. What are our priorties?

    Certainly not F35 like white elephant!

  41. Your sympathy for the army and xenophobic concern of china are getting you distracted from ground realities.
    1.If the Army really is sincere about Cooperation with IAF on high altitude mountains, they could have worked with IAF to develop ground strike capabilities for the tejas, besides not Just the IAF even the USAF is filled with yesterday's ACEs in its higher echelons, who would obviosly prefer Aircraft with superb aerodynalic performance so they can keep the skies clear than be concerned about troops on ground
    2.china's excusive challenge now is the F-35 soon to be procured by japan, S korea etc. So the Chinese have more than enough reason to develop capabilities especially to counter such a weapon. Obviously u have been talking too much with US business interest groups and Indian Hawks. As an average indian, I believe there is no need for us to gang up on China and i believe the average Chinese don't consider us the enemy. the chinese State will now and for a long time into the future prop up Pakistan and Pakistan will always be too happy to oblige

  42. Ajai, you raised a very good point.

    To what extent India and US can hug each other. Is close hugging an issue with India or US.

    India is not Israel in American point of view. So what we might get is inferior equipment. that's where the trust factor kicks in.

    I like the idea of F-35, but in my understanding LM offered it only through F-16s. So it is a double whammy. Can India afford that big money?

  43. I would love to see A-10 thunderbolt kind of ground-attack mean machines hunting PLA.

    Why don't Indian Army ask for A-10 and have their own aviation wing. why IA depend on IAF.

  44. Sir,
    i think u r stressin to much on F-35!!!i dnt know y...but it seems i m not readin a blog by an independent writer but a leaflet of promotion by lockheed martin,for its new aircraft!!!

  45. For all those who think that Colonel Shukla lacks on knowledge about A2G battle, I would like to remind them that he's an Ex-Army officer(from The Armoured Corps if i'm not wrong) and has done numerous courses, starting from a Cadet itself, required to become a Colonel of the Indian Army. Also, throw in the fact that he has participated in number of exercises in deserts. He knows a lot more about warfare(including the confidential than the rest of us put together. And I know this because my father is in the Army too!!

    Also, I personally think that just for the sake of a little delay, overprice tags and stuff like that, one should not overlook the superiority of the machine we would get at the end of the day..

    Consider this simple question: in the year 2040, you'd want which aircraft on your side: an MMRCA, or the f-35.

    Quality matters, not Quantity.


  46. Theres a strong argument for a strike aircraft here but the case that the aircraft should be the F-35 is not so well made.

    Why should that strike aircraft be the F-35 or rather why could it not be the Eurofighter, MiG-35, F/A-18 etc. The case made is that the F-35 is the 'best' and the MMRCA will be irrelevant. But what is not explored is what that enviroment will be in 2050 that will make the MMRCA irrelevant, which begs the question will it?

    Finally to quote Voltaire "The perfect is the enemy of the good", why does India need a perfect strike aircraft when a good one will suffice...

  47. You wrote "Buy a fighter for war, not air shows".....

    F-35 is ready for war? Ajai, Can you plz let us "less informed and technologically challenged" know how many wars did f-35 see? This a/c that you are suggesting isin't even ready!! MMRCA is all about getting an a/c that is battle ready now not 5-7 years in the future!! 5-7 years FGFA will be on its way....

    I would've appreciated you article had today been 2015!

  48. Yelelo:

    (F-35 costs to escalate and get delayed by another 3 years!)

  49. To all anons who state that IAF has sufficient ground support aircrafts:
    In OP VIJAY, how many LGBs actually hit the target?
    If after 52 years of independence, our airforce is incapable of supporting the army in mountains, does it not reflect a catastrophic failure in policy making? Guess what From Laddakh to arunachal, we have mountains on the border.
    Ah but i forgot, ground support is too menial a task ofr our air farce.

  50. Very crucial points there. Infact Ground Strike Fighters have always been made to compliment the air superiority fighters in IAF, and their pilots as well. It's important to face the fact that today, IAF needs much greater ground attack fire power than ever. Jaguars and Mig-27s are already on the verge of being number--plated, Where as air superiority is already well souped up with Su-30s, LCAs, FGFA. F-35 it is!

  51. Any PLA invading formation will require air cover to go invading doesn't matter what they are having on ground. Question here is, what threat PLAAF fighter will put against these M-MRCAs in possible Indo-China clash? I believe even in next 10 years the threat will come from SU-30MKs, SU-27s and J-10s because i don't see J-XX arriving in between, even if it does how much effective it will be will remain questionable for obvious reasons? Now considering Chinese Aggregation a reality on one day, i will expect PLA strike formation crossing LAC with mentioned fighter giving air cover. In this scenario a formation of IAF FGFA(if available that very day) will fly to wipe out enemy fighters off the sky and because of their overwhelming superiority they surely will. If FGFA are not available then a formation of MKI and M-MRCA will do that job, fight will be bloody but these M-MRCAs, LCA and any attacking jet will get enough room to fly A2G missions relentlessnessly. Considering my scenario to near to reality, i ask where is exactly the need for a LO Attack Aircraft to do precision bombing in mountainous terrain when carrying only 2t internal load? Specially when this BLOODY factor will run away the time IAF FGFA gets hands into play.

    I believe our AMCA will not be as advanced as F-35 initially and will remain inferior even at MK-2 stage but with time it will become more advanced than best version of IAF F-35 because of two mutually exclusive but very obvious reasons. Question is, why kill a fighter program which will produce more advance fighter-bombers than best US can sell to IAF in form of F-35, specially when there is no dire need and even if any is there this need can't be fulfilled by F-35s.

  52. For close air support the A-10 beats any other aircraft, even the Apache helicopter - so why not go for such a hardware since the US has upgraded the A-10 fleet.

  53. Have a look at this piece also --

    Threat to innovative fix-dependent system

  54. This is just subscribing to the hype that F-35 is a superior aircraft compared to any present, Americans are known for excellent Marketing strategy's , this is just one them, I don't know how many are aware of that Obama is cancelling future F-22 Production for its High Costs and infective considering present aircraft could do the job at a less price. below is the link for that article,now anticipating that move for the f-35 on e needs to shit the cost somewhere, there u have the Arabs, Canadians and through the bait towards INDIA.

  55. Air dominance in its classical sense is not possible in 21st century.

    Air supremacy, yes. And why scrap the MMRAC, instead develop AMCA with good ground op capability.

    Due to cost constraints we cannot order more than 2 squardons of F-35. But then to many airframes in the inventory will be a logistical nightmare.

    15 years down the line - we should have only 4 types of airframes.


    Since all of them will be locally manaufactured, we will not have any logistic issues.

  56. @ Openlight:

    Its a good piece, and I would buy the motives behind it. Except for the fact that the editor (controlling family chap) N.Ram is well known for his closeness to China.

    His daughter spent long stints in China. His close relative Ananthakrishnan was head of the Hindu's Beijing bureau and he himself has been a guest of the Chinese government several times to visit China in general and Tibet in particular, and then he came back and wrote rave reviews about how China had emancipated Tibet from medieval backwardness.

    So, while this article is correct, in general The Hindu may not be exactly devoid of motives :)

  57. Today IAF's procurement policy is said to be capability driven, true. But to my belief at no point capability driven procurement excludes possible threat.

    So one thing the BROADSWORD still needs to explain is what threat(exactly) requiring IAF to have F-35 which can't be tackled by in BROADSWORD's words an A2A fighter mocking to be fighter-bomber.

  58. F-35:
    -very very expensive
    -limited range & endurance
    -limited payload
    -limited manoeuvrability
    -unreliable americans and question of strings attached

  59. Col. Shukla, Request you to comment on the non-signing of CISMOA and the EUMA which essentially prevents "Indian Jugaad". In this context is F35 still relevant?

  60. If India buys the F-35.. I wonder how China will respond? People are talking about the IAF in 2020++! The problems at hand require a 4.5 gen aircraft in large cant keep expecting pakistan to wait another decade for an Indian military response ;)

  61. Must say..excellent piece of journalism

    Unfortunately our defense strategist have this fascination of getting carried away with fighters and other military assets that make the best spins in air shows or from draw maximum claps from crowds on rajpath and the trend is continuing even in this modernization drive. We are getting 10 C 17 for $6 billion. This will make us largest user of C 17 outside US and will make us proud to fly largest military plane over rajpath for coming years. For this price we can get probably 100 IL 76 or a better version of same and we absolutely have no strategic needs to move troops across continents like US has for moving assets from US to Afganistan/asia etc.I wish we had such needs but we dont and even if we did, our leaders, political and military lack the courage for any such action. But would make a good plane at rajpath with some good Hindi commentary describing the size and awesomeness of C 17.
    Even the LCA is perfect example of this myopic vision. What’s the need to go for smallest modern fighter in the world. Small means having to miniaturize all components and fitting them in cramped spaces and doing away with some failsafe backups maybe. Fascination for small must have cost tonnes of money and years on LCA an also limited its range and performance for components like Radar. Would it have hurt to have developed a fighter maybe 15 feet longer and 10 feet wider that might have materialized 5 years earlier? Another example would be the fascination with aircraft carrier. We are getting the Gorchakov for close to $3.5 billion and two more carriers soon but where is the fleet/battle groups to go with these carriers. They can absolutely not be lurking in open sea alone to be easy targets. And with an air arm of 14 fighters ( 20% will be in repair at any time and with a single take off strip at max 4-5 could be airborne with no credible awacs), the carrier would be defending just themselves rather than the fleet. But nonetheless, excellent poster child for navy. We have more examples in Mi 35/25 that didn’t see any action in their entire service life but were brought as they were largest combat helicopters around, with largest heat signature and enough paki experience in shooting down same in Afghanistan.
    We do need to move on from fascination of humongous or small and seriously focus on war winning assets. At same time ,we need assets that are not available to Chinese or pakis. Pakis are using F16 for 20 odd years and even if we get an advanced version , they know limitations of airframe and aerodynamics better than what we will learn in next 4-5 years. Its public knowledge that Chinese got F-16 from pak and have thoroughly examined the technical aspects of same. Getting all Russian stuff is no good either as Chinese are larger customer of Soviet/Russian military complex and are better exposed to Russian technology then us. We should very well assume that they have through overt or covert means the knowhow of the Bars radar that primarily distinguishes our SU30 from theirs. They even have their own copy of SU27 in J11.
    Getting back to F35, Ajai’s points are very valid. We do lack a figher with good ground attack capabilities needed in hostile environment and all the MRCA contenders will be outdated , outranked and outflanked by upcoming 5th gen by the time India starts getting its first deliveries.

  62. With Indian establishment on buying all most all defense product from western world shows their ineptness . Exporting high tech jobs and keeping the call center jobs shows their empty promise to develop India.

    On to your topic to buy F35 or any foreign aircraft, I have the following queries:
    1) as you are aware we have been importing weapons and other instruments from abroad, has these instruments or weapons changed our attitude towards research. I have not seen any improvement on forecasting needs, project scheduling and ability to divide a complex project into component?
    2) all the establishment cares is their ego and pride, which is hallow.

    3) how has purchase of new instruments from abroad helped Indian economy: the purchase of weapons relates to export of job, export of tax ( this money is not mantri's money but belongs to middle class indians), killing of Indian R&D, and dependency.
    For example, US or EU have all right to save their people's job but we like exporting them in return for money.

    May be you have a better understanding of dependency law in mathematics them me, however, I fail to understand your article preaching , we should be dependent on others for defense.

    My above thoughts may give a opinion that I could be against India's defense preparedness, however , I am not. On the other hand, I am puzzled by sudden purchase of weapons, when the establishment projected the needs of x/y weapons after 5 or 10 or 20 years.

    Why do they not have models to implement future defense needs?
    Why do they not have project execution models?
    Why do they not recurit researchers with better HR policies?

  63. Dear Ajai Ji,

    I have been avid fan of your blog. Sir I would really like to know how good our LCA tejas would be as compared to MMRCA contender both in terms of agility , monveuverbility etc....

    If small size of the plane is going to compremise on its performance why don't we go for bigger plane as LCA-II .

  64. RaviKiran Vedururu3 November 2010 at 21:26

    Please explain the cost over runs and delays? if confirmed orders including from Australia (developmental partner) and Israel are going to be delayed, UK are cutting their orders, When do you think an Indian order be executed, considering how fast our Indian MOD ordering process works :P

    That said the F-35 looks like a great ground attack fighter and IAF should get their hands on some of these useful machines. But they would have to be another bunch, just not as MMRCA.

  65. For those opposed to F35..would you have brought the maruti 1000 when Honda city was about to hit the amount of leather upholstary / decked up stero or unleaded premium petrol would have matched the honda in your 1000.. at not too huge a price over the years you would own car..

    why do we wish to take on sabre again in the gnats..

  66. No offence but i completely disagree with you due to following reasons--
    1.What about CISMOA,EUMA etc.Surely armed forces aren't happy with them and what kind of F-35 we will get without CISMOA?
    2.IS IAF idiot and doesn't formulate any strategy for future because it still wants to induct more sukhois?
    3.Why are SU-30mki called multirole if they can't perform ground attack though their range of 3000km looks specially for deep strike in ground territories?
    4.Can we trust US in defence?What about buying more costly but from trusted ones like EU?I mean the extent to which India can allow US to play role in her foreign policy?
    5.If US ally like ISRAEL is getting f-35 for above $100m,how high will it cost to us?
    6.IAF chiefs have expressed concerns over decreasing fighter squadrons,then can we wait till like 2016 to get f-35?

    You are one of the finest defence analyst in India yet i found this article a desperate call from US to change strategies.

  67. Looks like these days LM is paying good money to Ajai to write some crappy articles abt the notorious F-35.Is this a last minute resort that LM is using ? since F-16 will never be a winner in MMRCA?

    Ajai, long time back when u used to write good articles i used to a have so much respect on u and credibility on your reporting skills. But now, you are no where near when you used to be.
    Sometimes money is a really bad thing,it changes people to what they are not actually.
    In this case,you paid reporting sucks at its best. HAlleluyahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

  68. More cost increases, delays predicted for F-35


  69. Ajai, while I agree withyour argument whole heartedly, the F-35 will not be available to India for at lest another 5-6 years. I live pretty close to the LM base & have friends that work on the program. It will take another 2-3 years minimum to mature the plane - having a lot of software issues. Once it is certified, LM is first going to fill the orders for the development partners (3-4 years) and then India will get it's order entertained. from what I hear, maintaining these a/c and their stealth characteristic will be more expensive than what we spend on the Russian fighters and the a/c will have a longer 'down-time' after each mission to maintain it's "stealth" features.
    While I agree with the buy the 5th gen now for practicle reasons, it may not make logical sense as we need to intimate our intentions very clearly to China that any mis-adventures on their part will be met with sever consequences. From the current mile of fighters, the Rafel may best fit the need of the day, but the French do not give us much political leverage.

  70. Spoken like a true-OG Pongo! The Army is getting enough CAS with attack heptrs. Eyes down for more with UCAVs. Quit this gripe about "troops morale being lifted when they see fighters above them". Teach them that if they DON'T see a fighter, its a good thing! Just don't confuse laymen bloggers with this narrow perspective and allow airpower to do what its best suited for - Air Supremacy.


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