The F-35 for India?

Hey everyone. I'll be doing some special reports on the C-130J, F-35 and F-16 as soon as I'm back to India on Headlines Today, and will post the schedule here for anyone who cares to tune in. But for now, I just thought I'd put down some thoughts about my encounter with the F-35. We were driven down to the F-16 test hanger first, where we got a tour of what was on offer for the MRCA. Then we were asked to put all our cameras away for a tour -- the first for an Indian media group -- of the F-35 CTOL. I was lucky enough to be the first one to turn that corner. Yeah I know, stupid. But too cool.

First off, the Lightning II is a work of art. For anyone who loves airplanes, believe me when I tell you those pixellated videos and glossy Lockheed photo-releases are a criminal injustice to the real Lightning-II. A perfect bite-sized fighter, with a finish that made me gasp when I turned the corner on it the first time. Everything about the F-35's design is tight. The hidden hardpoints, the under-cockpit chamber for a minaturised Sniper pod, the subtly rounded planform, the soft-focus cockpit (we weren't allowed to see the cockpit, first hand, but saw some footage of it later). Either way, we also had an extended briefing on the F-35, which Lockheed-Martin and the US government have so far been only touting as a the pot of gold at the end of the F-16 rainbow. Somehow, that's a hardsell I don't quite buy, though the prospect of acquiring F-35s at all is quite attractive in itself. It's a seriously tight fighter. The F-35 obviously can't meet the MRCA RfP because its delivery schedule would never meet what the IAF has demanded.

On the other hand, Lockheed-Martin sees a far greater chance of doing business with the Indian Navy before the IAF, if at all. As I've written here before, the Navy sent an RfI (request for information) to Lockheed-Martin and has received two briefings so far on the F-35. The level of detail of these briefings is pretty deep -- the guys at Lockheed-Martin have apparently drawn out a full-fledged carrier aviation acquisition plan for the Navy, which includes the MH-60R multimission maritime helicopter as a replacement for the Sea King, and a fleet of Marine-Corps F-35 STOVLs as a replacement for the nearly extinct Sea Harrier. They'll be talking more to the Navy in the coming days, and we'll possibly know more during Def Expo next month.

Lockheed Martin photo/Tom Harvey

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