The US has pitched two of its advanced combat aircraft — F-15EX and F-21 to the Indian Air Force. But which of the two fighter jets i.e. -15EX or F-21 will be best suited for IAF?
To augment its fighter fleet, India has purchased 36 Dassault Rafales from France. Eleven of them have already been inducted into the IAF. Six more are scheduled to arrive this month.
The country has also moved forward with the development of its indigenous fourth-generation LCA Tejas fighters, which are expected to support the Rafales in carrying out future missions.
However, despite the presence of both the Rafales and Tejas, India may need more aircraft to thwart the challenges posed by ‘iron brothers’ China and Pakistan on northern and western fronts.
In order to address IAF’s requirements, New Delhi has been looking at a number of combat aircraft including Eurofighter Typhoons and Swedish Gripen fighters under the proposed MMRCA 2.0 contract. The US has pitched their F-15EX and F-21 fighters to India.
Aerospace giant Boeing earlier revealed that the US government had granted it a license to sell its newest heavy fighters, the F-15EXs to India. The fighters are the most advanced versions of the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle all-weather tactical fighters.
The F-15 fighters were designed in 1967 to cater to the US Air Force’s need for a dedicated air superiority fighter. They made their first flight in 1972 before the official induction in 1976, after which it was exported to Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.
The latest offer came in the back of Boeing providing India with 22 Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook helicopters through the Foreign Military Sales program of the US government.
Apparently, the fighters had been contenders for the Indian MMRCA contract and competing against French Rafales, Russian SU-35s, American F/A 18 Super Hornets & F-21s, and the Swedish Gripen.
On the other hand, Maryland-headquartered aerospace juggernaut Lockheed Martin has also offered their F-21 fighters to New Delhi for enhancing their aerial fleet.
The fighter reportedly boasts common components and technology from American fifth-generation stealth fighters like the F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor, both of which are considered the most advanced fighters in the world.
The F-21 fighter could open up a massive ‘Make in India’ opportunity and will look to consolidate the strength of the world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, and Indian conglomerate – Tata Group.
Moreover, the production of F-21s in India will boost thousands of jobs in the areas of engineering, program management, sustainment, and customer support.
The American aerospace firm will look to leverage technologies across its portfolio to deliver the F-21 at the most affordable price for New Delhi.
Reports suggest the F-21 will deliver an advanced single-engine, multi-role fighter at the most optimal Life Cycle Cost for the IAF. It will also have the longest service life of any competitor ranging to about 12,000 flight hours.
The fighters would be destined to bridge the critical operation gap for the IAF in combination with the Rafale and LCA Tejas fighter jets. The Lockheed F-21 fighters are also the only fighters across the globe that are capable of both probe/drogue and boom aerial fuelling capability.
In addition, the presence of Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) on the aircraft and the combination of delivering greater range penetration and loiter staying power are major factors for the IAF to consider.
With the Boeing F-15EX fighters, however, the IAF will get a heavy-weight fighter that could strike deep in Pakistani territory and also possess the ability to operate in the high altitudes of Ladakh against China.
Most importantly, it will equip the IAF with tremendous speed, with the F-15EX fighters capable of reaching speeds of Mach 2.5.
It can fulfill a variety of roles ranging from air superiority, interception, deep penetration strikes against enemy infrastructure, strategic bombing, and ground attack.
Finally, no matter which one of the two aircraft — F-15EX and F-21 — India opts for, the country will get an advanced fighter jet to take on its adversaries.