I wouldn't be surprised if someone from the Indian Air Force had seen or sat in an F-35 cockpit, I'm not aware of that happening? India, like Turkey is running Russian Air Defense Systems, so NO, they won't be getting the F-35 either?? they have been offered production of up-graded F-16s, which unlike the F-35 are not the latest "bleeding edge technology", but would be highly capable against their own "near peers"...So, you had said that you disagree India should rely on indigenous production for their main line defense aircraft, and I asked for what reasons do you think so, giving a few of my own on why they should (including the original purpose of the LCA program and where current IAF Squadron Strength is vs Sanctioned)...
I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I read two trains of thought from you to answer why India should not have its own indigenous aircraft fighter program:
1)They need Capacity and Capability NOW!
This stuck out to me because you said it four times in one form or another. But on its own I don't think it is a very solid answer to my question, in context of some of the information I provided re challenges facing the IAF. It sounds urgent but bombastic. Here's why I say so:
What qualifies as NOW? What is it they need NOW? What can they afford? And is it a viable path to maintaining (or getting back to) the force structure that the IAF says they need to defend India? Sustainable over the long term or in the face of conflict attrition?
If you mean India needs these fighters (Rafale? More Su-30MKIs? F-35?) NOW as in this year, well they are only slated to begin first delivery in September. It will take two years for all 36 aircraft to be delivered. 2021. For 36 Rafale. That is two squadrons. It will likely just cover the retirement (and other losses) of aircraft from the period 2019-2021.
The MMRCA (1.0 anyway) began in the early 2000s with RFP issued in 2007. Over 12 years ago this process began. The IAF began the process already under strength at around 39 Squadrons if I remember correctly. The urgent requirement has always been there, and likely always will to some degree. India needs a 5th Gen counter to the J-20 NOW etc.
There is a MMRCA 2.0 under review currently, and if it were to actually go somewhere, India would not see aircraft delivery begin until 2024 at the very earliest. But they need planes now...
My point is, this is nation defense planning, NOW is a relatively useless term. India needs to structurally put in place a defense ecosystem that they can indigenously sustain and build on for self sufficiency. It requires long term implementation and not short term splurge. Which to be fair, they did attempt with the beginnings of Tejas and MMRCA. But they overshot on Tejas with wanting the latest foreign systems (which continues today...MK1, MK1A, MK2...) and not iterating as I keep mentioning. MMRCA was handled about as bad as a negotiation could be. Poor leadership (or no leadership overall; fun fact, India does not have a typical Military Defense Chief, it has a political committee, and their PM Modi railroaded the entire process with MMRCA 1.0).
Final point of interest: India's Defense Budget 2019-2020 is about $45B USD. For all branches. Most of that goes to staff, salaries etc. Those 36 Rafale cost about $9B USD or $250M USD per aircraft (including service and spares). It makes every sense that India would put those kind of resources into its own program to keep funds in house and have future self sufficiency. If it hasn't happened already, that is the type activity that needs to happen NOW.
2)India does not currently have the capability to produce advanced fighter aircraft
I mean, I think the reality says otherwise. And 'advanced' is a relative term. India designed and built a fighter back in the 60s, the HF-24 (with heavy assistance from a contracted aero engineer). If they had of kept up with funding their design staff and working on the various systems things would be different today, but they didn't.
Tejas was started in the 80s and ironically ran into a major stall due to US sanctions on India (Indian designers were buying time on US wind tunnels for testing). First flight eventually took place in 2001.
I know I'm repeating myself but I will say once more: India was and is capable of putting up a fighter capable of replacing the existing MiG-21s, MiG-27s & Jaguars using more traditional (less advanced, however you want to term it) components and systems. Engines are difficult due to particular material science and manufacturing technique, true, so import those while you run a tandem research program. But BEL (Indian Electronics Company) has had Pulse Doppler Radar and other mission systems they could have started with (and again to be fair some they have used like the FCS). On top of the boom in dual-use consumer electronics technologies. But for the demand for cutting edge systems from the start, my bet is they would have been further ahead with Tejas today and in good numbers.
So I would say there was/is enough capability to replace the hundreds of aforementioned legacy aircraft to arrest the decline in fighter numbers and build a MIC that can iterate in technology from block to block and design to design. Plenty of successful industries and designs start out in a world where they are not immediately cutting edge but evolve to that level, see Samsung for a commercial entity or J-20/Type 055 for military projects. India has its issues but they were not incapable of this.
Okay, you are referring to the Su-57/FGFA program India was evaluating. Fair enough. Its still an evolving story and I too do not know all of the details. I do remember debating BarBrother(?) about the program on certain points though, and my position that modifying the airframe to add a second seat among other Indian requests, would be unlikely based on the presumption of superior mission systems and situational awareness in a 5th Gen aircraft.
There were also insinuations of Russia being uncomfortable with India having too much exposure to the aircraft before fully investing, at a time when India was potentially going to sign -and has since signed- significant military agreements with the US (COMCASA, BECA and LEMOA). For what its worth, I'm not aware of any Indian Pilot having been allowed an inspection of a F-35 cockpit either. I could be wrong though. In any case I can see difficulties from both the Indian and Russian perspective.
That's my take though - I don't see perpetual import of aircraft as a winning strategy - From the viewpoint of their force structure, their economy or their freedom of action geopolitically. Then again, it would be a big win for their primary arms dealer and perhaps even their rivals. Always two sides to the coin!
India has not to date built and fielded a "high end Fighter aircraft", while they seem to do fine on the low end, producing the F-16's in country would be a first step to "move up", and might well be followed by "high end production"??
I'm going to remind that tensions in Asia are extremely high, with contests for territory (China's Island building for instance), and power, you might not have another opportunity to build anything if you allow a near peer to take advantage of your relative weakness in the near term??
I see some of our friends squabbling over petty krap, and causing tensions on our own small team?? I just want to say, "get your head out of your ass"! there are those in the region who are attempting to buy friends, and throwing cash around? this is the most dangerous time in Asia since Vietnam, people better take a close look at who their friends are, and who would like to run the show??
some will of course point to the US, fair enough, but there are greater dangers lurking, here again this is my opinion, and I'm not an expert, but I am paying attention!