Indian Air Force is one of the most dynamic wings of the military forces of India. The IAF has inducted fighter jets mainly from western countries, excluding the United States of America.
Recently, there have been efforts by American conglomerates to draw India’s attention to their fighters. The Indo-US strategic relationship has strengthened with close economic and security ties, but IAF still is far from procuring fighters from the USA.
IAF does operate many American air systems and has various helicopters like AH 64 Apache and the CH 47 Chinook, manufactured by defence conglomerate Boeing, but does not procure fighter jets. There are several reasons why IAF never bought fighter jets from the US.
Here’s why IAF is reluctant to acquire fighter jets from the US.
Low Profile Military Acquisition Post 1947
India, after the early years of independence, followed a low military profile. Stockholm International Institute for Peace Research highlighted that India had strict control over defence spending between 1947 and 1962. India had spent only an average of 2% of its GDP on defence in these 15 years.
In this limited spending, IAF acquired 100 British-made Tempest and Spitfire aircraft. It also procured an unspecified number of de Havilland and Vampire fighters, from the UK. By 1957, the Canberra, a British-manufactured bomber was also acquired. Some deliveries were also taken by France.
Indian aviation historian, Anchit Gupta, said to The Print, “Essentially, the lineages of the empire and a lack of trust prevented American fighter acquisitions in this era.” Aviation expert Angad Singh said, “Familiarity was prioritised, and India decided to purchase these fighters over others in this early post-Independence period.”
Mistimed Export Of Fighter Jets To Pakistan
Just before the 1962 Sino-India War, India asked the US for fighter jets. Air Vice-Marshal, Manmohan Bahadur (retd.), said that India “got transport aircraft and radars from the US, but no fighters.”
Around the same time, the US gave 12 supersonic F-104 Starfighters to Pakistan. Scholar S. Nihal Singh wrote in his article in a journal, “It was significant as it marked the debut of supersonic fighters in the subcontinent.”
This created a massive security concern and also caused a trust deficit with US’ intentions towards India. Therefore, India turned towards the Soviet Union for supersonic MiG 21. India received its first batch of supersonic Soviet MiG 21 fighters in 1964.
Trust In Soviet Fighters
America’s bent towards Pakistan helped Pakistan get more access to fighters and technology from America, whereas India and the Soviets continued business due to the feasibility of the deals. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, India continued to deal with Russia in fighters.
Due to India’s floundering economy in the 1960s, and no industrialisation, a reasonably priced substitute for fighters was essential. Aviation expert Angad Singh remarked, “The Soviets offered India the best deal in economic terms for the MiG 21s.”
The deal also had a licensed production agreement that enabled India to produce MiG 21 FL in Nasik, which was essential for India’s economy. This deal led to the induction of 874 MiG 21s in total. Out of 874, 657 jets were manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited in India.
In the next decades, India continued to purchase more fighters from the Soviet Union, including MiG 27, MiG 29, and the Sukhoi Su 30s. India also expanded the acquisition projects to include fighters from other western countries like France. This includes Mirage 2000 and Rafale.
Now, with the emphasis on indigenization in the armed forces, the Indian state is focused on producing 5th-generation advanced medium combat aircraft. This leaves little hope for American fighter jets to debut in IAF.
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