What Plane Will The Indian Airforce Buy, the F-35 or the F/A-18?

Sebastien Roblin

Key Point: The F-35 seems to be the most likely purchase by the Indians.

When the Times of India revealed that the Indian air force was revising its single-engine fighter competition to encompass twin-engine jet designs, a collective groan likely rang from New Delhi to Washington—and even Stockholm.

The competition was meant to acquire a new generation of short-range jets suitable for defending India’s borders. The Indian air force is gradually retiring its 1950s-era MiG-21 single-engine fighter jets over the next few decades. Currently, it has only thirty-three squadrons of combat aircraft out of a planned forty-four, with ten more squadrons set to retire their aircraft over the coming decade.

An analyst quoted by the Times of India characterized India’s Ministry of Defense as “constantly changing their rules, changing their minds” and having a “knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” The exasperation stems from two factors. The first is that the single-engine competition had narrowed down to just two choices, the American F-16 and Swedish JAS 39 Gripen. If the government had simply stuck to the original guidelines, the Indian air force could have begun receiving 115 new fighters by the early 2020s and retained domestic production facilities to build even more if desired.

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