US offers F-35 fighters to India
In a major move, the United States has sent feelers that it is now ready for transfer of hi-technology weaponry to India, including its 5th generation Joint Strike Fighter F-35.
Though Pentagon has offered New Delhi participation in its missile shield, top of the shelf 4th generation F-16 and F-18/A fighters, weapon locating radars and its new brand of long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, it has so far kept the F-35 under wraps.
But in a surprise move last week, a high-level team from US Defence Major Lockheed Martin met top officials of the Indian Air Force to convey that the F-35 Lightning-II was available for IAF's 5th generation fighter requirements.
Lockheed Martin's Vice President for Business Development, Rob Weiss told PTI after the meeting that they had indicated that the F-35 was ready to be in reckoning for India's fighter needs beyond the induction of the 126 Multi Role Combat Aircraft.
The offer would come in handy for India as the country's security experts have been struggling to find partners to develop futuristic 5th generation fighters.
Though New Delhi has been in negotiation with Moscow for joint development and joint investment in next generation fighters, the Russian concepts of such fighters is currently only on the drawing board.
Americans embarked on development of the F-35 in early 2000 with an intial cost outlay of $50 billion along with close strategic partners. The first of these new generation fighters are likly to be inducted into the US Air Force by the end of 2009 or in early 2010.
"In the next few years a number of countries are joining the F-35 programme and Indian Air Force could also consider joining," Weiss said. "We briefed top IAF officials about the new fighters."
With embedded antennas, aligned edges, internal weapons and fuel and special coatings and material, the F-35 fighter uses stealth to pick and choose engagements while reaming undetected by enemy defence systems.
Weiss said the F-35 fighters boast of the most powerful sensor suite ever to be fitted on a fighter plane which will enable it to bring a seamless real world and real time 360 degree display of the battlespace to turn the pilots into "tacticians rather than technicians."
Lockheed Martin officials said if new countries joined the F-35 programme, the US could be open to delivery of new generation fighters within the next decade.
They said if the IAF chose the Lockheed Martin world's best selling fighter F-16 fighting flacons, it could "position India to be ready to receive advanced technologies incorporated in the F-35's."
Lockheed Martin officials said lot of new technolgies being tested on F-35 would be leveraged in the new generation F-16 Block 50 fighters.