F-35 Lightning II:- Why IAF Should Not Go For It .

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is considering the possibility of an order for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, according to sources in the Ministry of Defence. With deliberations at an early stage, it is understood the IAF will be writing to ask for more information on the fifth generation fighter.

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment  with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-35’s advanced stealth allows pilots to penetrate areas without being detected by radars that legacy fighters cannot evade.

The F-35 Lightning II is virtually a flying computer, which is a combination of a stealth bomber and a fighter jet and it promises to be the most effective fighter aircraft in decades to come. The F-35 will be a valuable asset to any air force in its arsenal, it will also be a viable proposition in the long-run when compared to any other aircraft in the next decade or more

F-35 is the second (nearly operational) 5th gen. aircraft in the world. It will give unique capabilities to India.

  • Giving India a real SEAD capability. Ability to safely make deep penetration strikes in enemy territory.
  • It can act as mini-AWACS and reduce the requirement for buying expensive specific AWACS platform.
  • It’s a true multi-role aircraft. Capable of performing a number of missions from Ground attacks, intelligence gathering to A-A combat & support missions.
  • It is capable of performing missions on its own with minimum dependency on other platforms.

That were Very beautifully lines but there are Thorns which can’t be ignored before buying F-35

India has been involved with the development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) – a version of the Russian PAK-FA/Sukhoi-57 fighter, but the IAF has lately been concerned about the uncertain prospects of the program.

In spite of the costs already sunk by India into the development program, the IAF would not be unwilling to walk away from a project that will be subject to delayed delivery and significantly higher costs, if more cost-effective and timely alternatives are available to them.

No doubt, the Russians wouldn’t be happy about this, but India has substantial existing and future plans for cooperation with their defence industry that would offset the impact of a withdrawal from the FGFA and could placate their old strategic partners.

To be clear, there is no doubt that the F-35 will meet accuracy and modernity standards required from any new-generation military equipment. But does it provide true bang-for-buck that the Indian Air Force needs? The way we see it, not really.

The Lightning II can barely be called a “medium weight” aircraft – the only aircraft heavier than it in the MMRCA competition was the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Now couple this with the fact that its payload just about matches that of the Tejas, and you start to wonder whether it’s such a good fit for the IAF. Next, even if it is advertised as a “multirole” aircraft, its capability on the aerial warfare front is still seriously suspect. At present the best it can do is carry four air-to-air missiles internally, less than half the capability of either the Typhoon or Rafale. It cannot operate without air cover as it does not possess a swing-role capability. Also, its stealth is not all-aspect like the F-22’s, and so it cannot be relied upon to make its way in and out of enemy territory unassisted.

Additionally, the F-35 features a significantly smaller combat radius than either MMRCA finalist when on internal fuel and weapons (which also means a smaller payload due to restrictions on space available). There is no official mention yet about external fuel tanks on the F-35, and the moment you hang weapons on external pylons, you can kiss both range and stealth goodbye. There are doubts, too, about its aerodynamic capabilities. The aircraft featuresthrust-to-weight ratio and wing loading figures poorer than those of any contemporary fighter. One wonders how well it would perform in the key strike role in the thin air over the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau – the likely setting of any future India-China conflict.

There is also an issue that seems minor at first sight, but could throw a spanner in procurement. The IAF has, over the last two decades, gravitated towards two-man crews for any aircraft that will be involved in strike roles beyond close air support. This was highlighted in the Kargil War when IAF Mirages had to perform precision bombing tasks at high altitude while avoiding air defences, staying within the border and keeping an eye on possible interception. It is the reason why a third of the MMRCA batch is touted to comprise tandem-seaters just as all the new Jaguars have been. The lack of a two-seat F-35 means that not only will the IAF not get what it wants for deep penetration strike roles, but it means that any pilot training will have to be done on expensive simulators only.

Another problem is the complexity of the design itself and the fact that many of its technologies are radically new and untried. The USAF is learning the hard way that the F-22’s radar absorbing skin (which the F-35 also uses) is highly vulnerable to rain and dust, and very expensive and difficult to maintain

If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse once we start talking about timelines and costs. As of today, the F-35 (without development costs included) is priced at the same level as the Eurofighter and the Rafale. But while the latter two are combat proven and available today (in a fashion), the Lightning II won’t be for a decade.

In the midst of all these arguments and calculations, the main reason why new medium fighters are being bought is often forgotten: the IAF needs new aircraft as fast as possible to shore up numbers and make up for the rapid obsolescence of a large portion of its fleet, and each delay only serves to make an already precarious situation worse. It is already taking a significant risk with the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) as it is. What is the point of bringing more uncertainty into the equation now, that too to procure a fighter that offers little in addition to low-observability?

And speaking of low-observability, how much will it cost to maintain the stealth features, especially in the hazy, dusty conditions of India? For that matter, will the IAF even get an aircraft that is as stealthy as the ones the US and UK operate? Will it get all the avionics, even watered down versions? The US is reluctant today to provide the UK, the only level-1 partner in the project, with full access to the aircraft’s source code. What are the chances of India getting a better deal?

Having said all that, one can imagine a few scenarios in which the F-35, even with all its problems, would serve a useful purpose in the IAF. For years, the IAF maintained a handful of high-maintenance MiG-25R Foxbats for a niche profile: reconnaissance of enemy territory, out of reach of interceptors or SAMs. Likewise, the IAF could consider one or two squadrons of the Lightning II, for the simple purpose of “kicking the door down” in the first few days of the war, taking out vital air defence nodes, logistics nodes, or AEW&C and tanker aircraft before handing over the heavy lifting to other aircraft that can announce their presence.

And yet, the reason this may turn out to be a bad idea is that in the same way the MiG-25 was replaced not by another aircraft but an indirect replacement – spy satellites – the F-35’s role can be performed not by another aircraft, but by missiles. We already operate the ground-launched BrahMos. The air-launched version should be available within the next few years, giving us a 300-km reach anywhere beyond its launch point. Throw the Shaurya into the mix and suddenly we can hit targets deep inside enemy territory without having to risk aircraft or pilots. Granted, missiles cannot do everything an aircraft can but even if cruise missiles provide partial coverage, the costs in maintaining a squadron’s worth of special aircraft and pilots cannot be justified.

Finally, the F-35 isn’t “a full generation ahead of the aircraft available in IAF inventory”. On the contrary, it’s only playing catch-up technologically. The main thing of the F-35 over a Su-30 is its supposed stealth design… However, this is also its main real weakness. Stealth design results in poor aerodynamics, making it less vulnerable than the planes it replaces, and requiring vastly more fuel to burn per miles flown. It also makes maintenance harder and more complicated; US militaries will outsource maintenance to LockMart teams to save on training their own technicians.

Between that and the gas guzzling, the F-35’s cost per flying hour will be easily double, if not triple, that of the other aircraft. Payload is severely decreased, unless you want to use external hardpoints, which negate the supposed stealth advantage. But even if you dismiss all these drawbacks, what you get is nothing worth writing home about.

The F-35’s stealth is easily defeated by operating radars outside the X-band range. Its stealth design also only covers the front angle — not the bottom, top, side, and especially not the rear. This means that an F-35 is easy to detect from ground radars (below it) or early warning radar planes (like the AWACS) flying above.

If India decides to buy F-35, then it will force her to sign rest 2 agreements with the USA to get full access to its technology. The signing of BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) & CISMOA (Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement) would help India to have access to US state-of-arts technology and weapon systems to which India is reluctant to sign.

IAF operated French and Russian planes since three & half decades. So, it has experience in handling those planes. Nill experience of operating American fighter would tell IAF to buy French one. But the changing in geopolitics can turn the game in American favour if IAF opts F-35 & the question must be raised to separate bureaucracy from military matters.

Finally, there is one additional issue that bears examination in this debate, and that is how procuring the F-35 will affect the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project. Because of the similar roles the two aircraft shall be expected to fulfil, there is a distinct possibility that purchasing the F-35 will kill the AMCA for good, with disastrous long-term consequences. Detractors may argue that the AMCA is nowhere close to completion, and may be delayed by years just like the Tejas has been. That may well be the case, but if the AMCA does suffer inordinate delays, India can always place a future order for an F-35 with many of its niggles hopefully sorted out. There is little reason to make that call now, when the AMCA is still a design on paper.

The AMCA on the other hand is aimed at replacing much smaller ground attack jets such as the Mirage-2000, Jaguar and Mig-27. The IAF will always have a need for a mix of aircraft, including large, medium and small jets for a variety of combat roles. Therefore, replacing the FGFA with the AMCA makes no sense at all.




Some aspect of this article are copied From Indian Airforce Fans Facebook Post


You may also like...