The US is prepared to sell India the fifth generation F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft (also called the Joint Strike Fighter - JSF), says a Pentagon report to the US Congress. The aircraft is currently undergoing trials.
"Should India indicate interest in the JSF, the United States would be prepared to provide information on the JSF and its requirements (infrastructure, security, etc.) to support India's future planning," said the report.
India has said it is not interested in the F-35 as it has committed to building a fifth generation fighter aircraft jointly with the Russians. But that project has yet to see fruition, with only a prototype being tested as of now.
Titled Report to Congress on US-India Security Cooperation, the document details growing defense collaboration between the two countries described as "natural partners". While there have been many reports of the F-35 being one day on offer to India, it was never formally on the table until this report.
The report follows a request from the US Senate's Armed Force Committee as to whether the Pentagon had objections to selling the F-35 to India. The F-35 offer came into play when India declined to select either Lockheed Martin's F-16 or Boeing's F-18 Superhornet for the multi-billion dollar medium multi role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract.
The two remaining contenders are the French Rafale and the Typhoon Eurofighter.
All the contenders for the MMRCA contract, however, are fourth generation fighters, including the two European fighters. Critics in India have argued it makes little sense for India to commit itself for the next few decades to a fourth generation fighter if a more advanced fifth generation fighter in on offer - and when China already has a fifth generation prototype being tested.
The report seeks to address the offset issue in defence purchases, an Indian requirement that a large portion of the components of imported military equipment have to be manufactured locally with an eye to promote indigenous defense manufacturing.
"We recognise that India is also seeking to build its own indigenous defense industry, and is looking for the best technologies to use in its defense sector," the report said.
The US will be a partner in this endeavour, the report said. "The United States wants to develop deeper defense industrial cooperation with India, including a range of cooperative research and development activities."
It also says the US is committed to giving India "top-of-the-line technology".