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Should India abandon the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft tender and move direct to a fifth generation F-35?

Last week I read an interesting article by Ajai Shukla in the Business Standard newspaper. Ajai argues that India should abandon its $10+ billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender and directly purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II fifth generation multi-role fighter.

While the article does tend to get a little bogged down by the politics surrounding Indian defence purchases, it is an excellent read and make a very valid point.

The F-35 is way ahead any of the current aircraft in the MMRCA competition and is available now. India may have signed a $25+ billion deal with the Russians on developing the India version of the supposed fifth generation fighter, the PAK FA, currently called FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) [India just loves its acronyms], but this is expected to be ready only by 2018.

Recent history shows the Russians are bankrupt both financially and ethically. Repeated delays on the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier and the abrupt escalation of price, and not to subtle blackmailing techniques shows how bereft the Russian state is, of fundamental decency and reliability. They will not make for a reliable partner especially in the new age where technology counts even more with each passing day.

Add to this the other partner in the FGFA, the Indian defence R&D establishment. More than ten years behind schedule the indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is still in the prototype stage. The LCA may have been at the leading edge when conceived, today it is just one of the many fighters available. The Arjun main battle tank is another show piece of delay with the indigenous defence development establishment.

Can the Indian nation afford to rely on these establishments with their history? The F-35 is available here and now.

The FGFA may develop stealth, but India already has wonderful stealth technology. Billions of rupees frittered on the Kaveri engine which was to power the LCA, and nothing to show for it, only demonstrates how good a fifth generation stealth technology is present at Indian defence development establishments which makes money disappear quickly within the morass of bureaucracy.

India desperately needs to shore up its defensive capability with respect to China. Forget Pakistan, they are merely an irritant. Put a squadron of Apache AH-64 Longbow attack helicopters in the Jammu region and another in the Rajasthan front. It will take care of all the militants and potential tanks that will likely raid India from Pakistan.

It is the the entire northern and eastern frontier that India needs to shore up. China is getting increasing belligerent, and surround India with its puppets from Myanmar to Nepal to Pakistan. With far more money already spent and with the capability to spend, China clearly enjoys massive ground superiority. India will have to counter with air superiority.

It already has the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. Now add the F-35 and the duo will rule the skies for the next decade, and as military history has shown, rule the sky, rule the battle front.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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