Aero India 2023Defence Industry

At Aero India, US F-35s, Bombers iCET Talk Between Doval And Sullivan

Story Highlights
  • The US is basically putting a lot of stock in their relationship with India and showing off the fact that India has been their "Major Defense Partner" since 2016.
  • India is one of our most important security partners in the Indo-Pacific... We are trying to build a relationship that has many layers and allows us to think together

The US and India’s defence partnership is about to reach “newer heights” after both countries gave the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology a push forward (iCET). At last week’s Aero India 2023, American fighter jets and bombers ruled the skies over India.

The US’s huge air show, which overshadowed those of other countries, is “evidence of deepening defence ties” between Washington and New Delhi at a time when the US wants to “wean away” India from Russian platforms.

The official, who did not want to be named, said that the US sending two F-35 fighter jets and two bombers to India is “hugely significant” and that the move was finalised when both sides successfully launched the iCET during National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s trip to Washington. Then, he talked to Jake Sullivan, who worked for the US government.

Under the iCET, both countries have agreed to create a new bilateral Defense Industrial Cooperation Roadmap to speed up technological cooperation between them for joint development and production. At first, they will focus on projects related to jet engines, technologies related to weapons, and other systems.

“The fact that these high-tech assets are coming from the US is a result of what was agreed upon during iCET, when both NSAs met… “It paves the way for more defence companies to work together,” the official said.

Another official source says that the US didn’t show off its F-35 and F-16 fighter planes and B-1B Lancer supersonic heavy bombers at Bengaluru to “sell” them to the Indian Air Force, but rather to “send signals” to China and Russia that India is now its security partner.

Even though the US wants to join the $12 billion IAF programme to buy fighter planes to fix the problem of dwindling squadrons, sources say that the show of US power last week was not about that.

The sources stressed that the US’s show of strength on Indian soil was not meant to coddle the Ministry of Defence or the IAF into buying its products. Instead, it was meant to prove that India, which has been a “Major Defence Partner” of the US since 2016, is Washington’s most important security partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Sources also said that India had already bought a number of strategic planes from the US in the past through billion-dollar deals.

Sources mentioned above say that as tensions with Russia and China rise, the Joe Biden administration will now focus on “manifesting” India-US defence ties in the coming years by putting on bigger military shows at India’s defence and homeland security shows.

Some of the biggest defence deals between India and the US took place in 2010-2011 and 2021. India bought 10 C-17 Globemaster strategic military planes and 6 C-130 J Super Hercules jets from the US in 2010 and 2011. This cost a total of $6.5 billion. After that, in 2021, the US gave India permission to buy P-8I patrol planes for $2.42 billion.


Former Indian Ambassador to the US Arun K. Singh thinks that India has come up with a good strategy that lets the world know that India will “make its own decision based on its own national security.”

“The US is basically putting a lot of stock in their relationship with India and showing off the fact that India has been their “Major Defense Partner” since 2016. “The iCET has added a new dimension to the growing defence partnership between India and the US,” Singh said.

He also said, “The US sending fighter jets to India has more than one meaning.” The armed forces of these two countries are doing military exercises together, both bilaterally and with other countries. This is meant to help with those exercises. They aren’t sending the jets to the government just to get it to buy them. There is a process for that, and the lobbying is going on somewhere else.”

Singh also said that the US is sending high-tech military equipment to India to show that Russia’s “capability and ability are decreasing” and that India should choose American platforms because of this.

Derek J. Grossman, a senior defence analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation, thinks that the US showed off its newest fighter planes in “expectation” that the IAF will buy them in the future to “further the growing US-India security partnership.”

He thinks that because India bought the Russian S-400 air defence missile system, the US will “never” be able to sell India the F-35s.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Jedidiah P. Royal, who was in India because of the show, told reporters last week: “India is one of our most important security partners in the Indo-Pacific… We are trying to build a relationship that has many layers and allows us to think together, share information, skills, and knowledge, and exercise and train together in a way that lets us deal with the current security situation.

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