India is forced to accelerate the procurement of F-35 stealth fighters to create a balance with China and Pakistan.
India is likely to be forced to turn to the US to buy the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter. They are expected to skip Russia’s AMCA or Su-57 domestic fighter, because China is expected to soon provide J-31 to Pakistan. New Delhi is in the process of developing a domestic next-generation stealth fighter.
Experts say that the Indian fighter will be at least in the same class as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. However, the development of India’s fifth generation stealth fighter has only recently started, meaning that in the brightest scenario, it is at least another 15 years before mass production begins.
Indian defense officials are also not interested in the Russian Su-57, because after the joint development of the FGFA, which is actually a two-seat version of the Su-57, they found that Russia’s fifth-generation fighter still had too many shortcomings. The reason why India has to rush to plan to buy F-35 is because of moves from Pakistan. Their neighbors have squadrons of French Mirage-3 and 5, Chinese F-7, and American F-16 Block 15, which are obsolete and will soon be retired.
There has been information about Pakistan starting to modernize its fleet recently. When India ordered 36 Dassault Rafale fighters from France, Pakistan responded with a quick order, and China delivered the J-10CE Dragon to them in just 16 months. And yet, Pakistan is also working on a version of the JF-17 Block-IV fighter, a joint project between Pakistan and China. In recent months, the two countries have been working to bring the older variant JF-17 Block III into service with the Pakistani Air Force.
Pakistan’s idea is to buy at least 250 JF-17s with many upgrades. This squadron will coordinate with J-10CE medium fighters, and most significantly, several dozen FC-31 fifth-generation stealth fighters. This is a development that really worries India. In the arms race, New Delhi has been far behind by Beijing. While India still has to rely on fourth-generation fighters, China has deployed the fifth-generation J-20 in border hotspots. If it continues to be surpassed by Pakistan in the race for air supremacy, this is something that Indian military officials can hardly accept.
India’s Russian-origin fighters such as the MiG-21 Bison and especially the Su-30MKI, which were advertised as giving them absolute air superiority, did not prove superior to Pakistan’s JF-17. If the neighbor put the FC-31 on duty, even if it received enough Rafale squadrons from France, India would still be the loser.
Therefore, New Delhi’s only option at this time is the US F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter. With confirmed tactical features, this 5th generation fighter will give the Indian Ministry of Defense peace of mind. Not only that, in addition to the F-35A version, India is also facing the opportunity to buy the F-35B variant for its new generation aircraft carrier. This is also essential when there is evidence that China is testing a carrier-based fighter version of the J-31. The biggest obstacle for India today is that the US never allowed the F-35 to operate with the S-400 air defense system that New Delhi received from Russia. This is a difficult problem to solve in the near future.