Debuting at Aero India 2023 – Asia’s largest airshow, which runs from 13-17 February in Yelahanka, Bangalore – is Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter. The F-35 was brought to India by the US Air Force (USAF) and is expected to be the showstopper at the five-day event.

Coming ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US state visit later this year, the F-35’s surprise appearance at the show, with both static and aerial displays, reiterates the deepening Indo-US ties and has given rise to speculation of the fighter being pitched to India for a possible sale. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been looking at international contenders for a USD 20 Bn deal for 114 fighters. However, at a press conference on the eve of the show Rear Admiral Michael Baker, defence attaché at the US Embassy in New Delhi, put an end to that speculation. “We have not been asked. We have not had that kind of high-level discussion,” he said. “India, from what I can tell, is very focused on building its own future fighters. And so the point of the F-35 [at Aero India] is not about Foreign Military Sales; it is about the closeness of a defence partnership of two maritime democracies with great air power, naval power and land power collaborating to really provide deterrence and security across the region.”

The single-engine, single-seat F-35 is essentially being sold to the United States’ NATO allies, although non-NATO allies Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore also operate it, while Switzerland, which is also non-NATO, is considering an F-35 purchase. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the fifth-generation fighter is co-developed in partnership by eight countries and presently flown by 14 air forces and navies worldwide.

Leading the largest delegation at Aero India 2023, US Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador A Elizabeth Jones said that the size of the US delegation only proved the growing diplomatic and security co-operation between the two democracies and that the Indo-US strategic partnership is one of the world’s most consequential relationships.

Suman Sharma