WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The United States may allow India to buy its fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter as part of its Joint Strike Fighter program, military officials in Washington said.
U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter, head of acquisitions at the Pentagon, hinted at the possibility saying that there was "nothing on our side, no principle that bar Indian participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program."
"Right now," he added, "they're focused on these aircraft which are top-of-the-line fourth-generation fighters."
Speaking in response to a report by Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis on India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, Carter clarified, however, the decision would be "India's alone."
Determined to increase its defenses and become a regional superpower, India plans to spend up to $30 billion on its military by 2012. In recent months, it inducted a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile into its armed forces, unveiling a defense spending budget spiked by 24 percent since last year.
The moves have Pakistan fretting, with leading officials billing India's drive a "massive militarization."
The United States' consideration of offering the F-35 to India isn't new.
In 2007, Lockheed Martin briefed Indian air force officials on the stealth aircraft but plans for a sale were subsequently blocked by Washington.
India's interest, though, remains.
Lockheed Martin Vice President Orville Prins recently confirmed that the company had received an official interest request by the Indian navy. The request concerned naval variants of the F-35, including the F-35B STOVL and F-35C.
"We are going to offer our aircraft to them," he was quoted saying by the Defense Update Web site.
Citing the Tellis report, Defense News said India was eyeing the purchase of 126 fighters, valued at more than $10 billion. Competitors are said to include the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the Mikoyan MiG-35.
The possible release of Joint Strike Fighter program technology to India marks a significant shift in policy toward New Delhi, a change resulting from growing concern over the military growth of China.
Also, if the United States holds out on its initial reservations, it may lose a potential client to Russia.
India is considering buying 250 T-50 fifth-generation fighters from Russia in an ambitious joint development project with Sukhoi.