As India develops its fifth-generation stealth jet, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, the appearance of the US Air Force’s multirole F-35A Lightning II and F-35A at the Bengaluru air show is causing a stir among military observers in the country. From static displays to flying demonstrations, the fighter jet is taking centre stage at the Indian Air Force’s Yelahanka air base, where the air show is being held from February 13 to 17.
Is the US Eyeing India’s MRCA Tender with F-35’s Arrival?
The F-35A Lightning II, stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, is now available for public viewing on static display. As Indian defence scientists work on the development of an indigenous stealth fighter jet designed to evade enemy radar and air defence systems, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a fifth-generation fighter with stealth capabilities, is in advanced stages of development, with the Aeronautical Development Agency of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) having completed the critical design review.
Many experts on the Indian Air Force believe that the arrival of the F-35s at Yelahanka airbase was not a mere formality but rather a signal that the US is positioning an American fighter to win an ongoing IAF tender for 114 multirole fighter aircraft (MRCA). Lockheed Martin, a US aerospace vendor, is currently offering the F-21, which is regarded by many IAF analysts as technologically outdated, as it is widely known to be a slightly improved variant of the F-16 Block 50/52, an aircraft that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has flown for decades and mastered in every respect.
Inside the F-35: An In-Depth Look at the World’s Most Advanced Fighter Technology
The F-35 fighter jet is considered at the forefront of American fighter technology. It is equipped with the most advanced, lethal and interoperable weapons systems the United States offers. The F-35 and other systems have been designed to penetrate and defeat the most advanced adversary air defences. A senior US embassy official emphasised the importance of the F-35’s arrival at the airshow as a symbol of the strong and close partnership between India and the United States.
With an engine producing 43,000 pounds of thrust, the F-35 is equipped with a three-stage fan, a six-stage compressor, an annular combustor, a single-stage high-pressure turbine, and a two-stage low-pressure turbine. The F-35 program is handled by the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, and the US Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy are all involved in procuring and operating the fighter jet. Additionally, eight international program partners, including the US, Italy, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada, as well as six Foreign Military Sales customers, including Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium, and Singapore, are also procuring and operating the F-35. The program collaborates with nearly 1,800 domestic suppliers in 45 states and Puerto Rico, producing a wide range of sophisticated components, from radar sensors to the aircraft’s mid-fuselage.
Plagued Program: F-35 Controversies and Technical Issues
In a recent development, the US temporarily halted the deliveries of F-35 fighter jets after discovering Chinese-origin parts in some components of the aircraft. The turbomachine used in the fighter aircraft is manufactured by Honeywell International Inc., while Lockheed Martin does the overall construction. Honeywell had informed Lockheed that the magnet in the F-35 fighter jets used an alloy sourced from China, supplied by a fifth-tier subcontractor. Following this violation of federal defence acquisition rules, the F-35 joint program office temporarily stopped accepting new F-35 aircraft. The investigation is ongoing to ensure compliance with the regulations on speciality metals.
Despite the issue, Lockheed Martin has assured the safety of the F-35 aircraft and is working with the defence department to resume deliveries. However, on December 15, 2022, an F35B fighter jet experienced a mishap, leading to the pilot safely ejecting from the spinning fighter. The Navy’s investigation into the incident revealed that a high-pressure fuel tube in the Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engine had failed.
The appearance of the F-35A Lightning II and F-35A at the Bengaluru air show has drawn attention to the ongoing competition for India’s multirole fighter aircraft tender. The advanced capabilities of the F-35, along with its technological superiority, have led many to believe that the US is positioning itself to win the bid. Despite recent technical issues with the F-35 program, the fighter jet remains at the forefront of American fighter technology, equipped with advanced weapons systems designed to penetrate and defeat even the most sophisticated air defences.