At air show, US displays top fighter jets to woo India from Russia

BENGALURU, India: Taking advantage of delays in receiving Russian military supplies due to the Ukraine war, the United States brought its most advanced fighter jet, the F-35, to India, alongside F-16s, Super Hornets and B-1B bombers, as Washington looks to woo New Delhi away from Russia.

The American delegation to the week-long Aero India show in Bengaluru is the largest in the 27-year history of the show, and underlines the growing strategic relationship between the United States and India.

In contrast, Russia, India’s largest weapons supplier since the days of the Soviet Union, had a nominal presence. Its state-owned weapons exporter Rosoboronexport had a joint stall with United Aircraft and Almaz-Antey, displaying miniature models of aircraft, trucks, radars and tanks.

Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets have already entered the race to supply fighter jets for the Indian Navy’s second aircraft carrier, and Lockheed Martin’s F-21, an upgraded F-16 designed for India unveiled at Aero India in 2019, is also being offered to the air force.

The F-35 is not being considered by India "as of now", according to an Indian Air Force source, but the display of two F-35s at Aero India for the first time was a sign of New Delhi’s growing strategic importance to Washington.

It was "not a sales pitch" but rather a signal to the importance of the bilateral defense relationship in the Indo-Pacific region, said Angad Singh, an independent defence analyst.

"Even if weapons sales aren’t the cornerstone of the relationship, there is a cooperation and collaboration at the military level between India and the U.S.," he added, as quoted by Reuters.

The United States is selective about which countries it allows to buy the F-35. When asked if it would be offered to India, Rear Admiral Michael L. Baker, defence attache at the U.S. embassy in India, said New Delhi was in the "very early stages" of considering whether it wanted the plane