US 5th-generation F-35 fighter makes first landing in India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 13 February 2023

US 5th-generation F-35 fighter makes first landing in India

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 13th Feb 2023

Two US Air Force (USAF) F-35A fighters – arguably the world’s most advanced fifth-generation fighter – landed at the Yelahanka air force base and parked without fanfare in the static display area, sending spectators at the Aero India 2023 exposition outside Bengaluru into a selfie-clicking frenzy.

There had been rumours before Aero India 2023 that an F-35 might overfly the air show as a gesture of solidarity and support from the US military. But the landing by two F-35s and a crisp statement from the US government came as a surprise to most.

“The USAF’s newest fifth-generation fighters – the stealthy, supersonic, multirole F-35A Lightning II and F-35A Joint Strike Fighter – will make their debut at Aero India 2023,” said an official announcement from the US Consulate General in Chennai.

“After a journey from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, United States, the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team will impress crowds with a demo of its unique aerial capabilities. The F-35A Lightning II from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska will be on static display,” it said.

For many commentators on the Indian Air Force (IAF), the arrival of the F-35s in Yelahanka was not an idle gesture. More probably, it was a signal that Washington was positioning an American fighter to win an ongoing IAF tender for 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA). 

The F-21 – the fighter currently being offered by US aerospace vendor, Lockheed Martin – is regarded by many IAF analysts as technologically outdated. Furthermore, it is widely known that the F-21 is a slightly improved variant of the F-16 Block 50/52, which is an aircraft that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has flown for decades and mastered in every respect.

Hence any move by Lockheed Martin to replace the offer of the F-21 with an offer for the F-35, would be welcomed by the IAF.

“The F-35’s engine produces 43,000 pounds of thrust and consists of a three-stage fan, a six-stage compressor, an annular combustor, a single stage high-pressure turbine, and a two-stage low-pressure turbine,” said the US statement.

Making it clear that the F-35 fighters had been sent to Bengaluru to flaunt their quality, Major General Julian Cheater, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of the USAF International Affairs, said, “The F-35 represents the leading-edge of US fighter technology. Aero India is an ideal forum to showcase the most advanced, capable, lethal, and interoperable weapons systems the US has to offer. This system and others are designed to penetrate and defeat advanced adversary air defences.”

Washington has clearly decided that the F-35 is not to be offered to the IAF as a replacement for the F-16. Instead, both aircraft would be positioned to compete.

“In addition to the F-35, an F-16 Fighting Falcon duo will conduct daily aerial demonstrations from February 13-17, showcasing the capability of one of the USAF’s leading fighter jets. On static display, the F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet are multirole fighters,” it said.

The IAF is understood to be considering nine in the MRFA acquisition. In the twin-engine category are Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15EX Eagle II; Dassault’s Rafale, Eurofighter GmbH’s Typhoon, Russia’s RAC MiG-35 and Sukhoi-35. 

In addition, two single-engine aircraft could be fielded: Lockheed Martin’s F-21 Super Viper; and Swedish firm Saab’s Gripen E/F.

Contacted for a reaction, Lockheed Martin declined to comment.


  1. F 35 will not be offered to India as long as we field S400 missile system which was core objections of U.S while denying Turkey the same as they fear S400 would read the signature and other tech from F35 so it will be wise on India's part to stick to more Rafale's till AMCA comes along with TEDBF

  2. I believe if Lockheed Martin only thought of offering the F -16 XL configuration they would have had a better fighting
    Chance to get a look in during this current competition. Because it doesn’t look close to all F-16 variants like the
    PAF have. IAF would surely have been more excited in considering it.TASL could have easily managed to produce those F-16 XL wings, they would certainly look closer to IAF’s Tejas. I think it was the best way for them to move forward. Pete,

  3. Is this the same aircraft that America refund to deliver to Turkey because they bought the S400 that India have. What a mess?


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