It’s just rumours for now. But defence analysts claim that the presence of B-1B bombers from the US Air Force in India during Exercise Cope India 2023 is not just not for show or mere coincidence. The bombers are part of the joint exercise, which will continue until April 21. They are there to carry out their missions alongside the Indian and American fighter jets, among which we notice a flotilla of F-15Es.
In India, the opinion “is already creeping in” that New Delhi may not want these giant aircraft, but Washington is ready to sell strategic bombers. Considering the tensions in the region [China and Taiwan] and in the same degree between India and China, the US is opening the doors wide for a possible sale to the Indian Air Force.
Russian influence in India’s arms production is domineering. If at some point India decides to secede from it, it will take at least a decade or two for that to happen. But the US is already acting on this issue because it believes that it can overcome Russian influence and “pull” India into its camp.
The first steps are already underway. Washington is still in the game for India’s acquisition of a hundred modern fighter jets. The F-15EX is one of the candidates, and it is no coincidence that this fighter is participating in the exercise.
The B-1B cruise missile carriers will retire from the US military, not because they are no longer productive, but because Washington needs to make way for its newest flagship in the field, the B-21 Raider. According to experts, if India decides to arm itself with B-1B long-range bombers, it will cost, together with the armaments, at about $1 billion each.
Analysts recall that India and the US signed a key memorandums in recent years. Among them are the designation of India as a “major defence partner”. Perhaps in words, this sounds insignificant, but in reality, any country designated by Washington as a major defence partner gets easy access to the purchase of strategic platforms. The B-1B is one such platform.
The other memorandum is the logistics exchange. This is an extremely important agreement. Through it, India and the US will be able to mutually use their bases for repairs. The third agreement is the so-called communication compatibility. It is from 2018 and facilitates the sale of high-tech weapons systems to India. And the last agreement was in 2020 when India and the US agreed to share geospatial intelligence.
Everything is in place for India to get bombers if it wants. But does India want it?
There are already several different opinions on the matter. Naturally, they are bipolar and defend both points of view. For example, at the present time, the Indian Air Force has stated unequivocally that it does not need and therefore will not buy any bombers. In its statement, the Indian Air Force even included the phrase “it has no intention of doing so in the near future.” The government in New Delhi believes that the country should invest in deploying a strong fighting force.
At the other extreme are the opinions of Indian experts and ex-pilots who say that India should acquire at least six bombers. They will have to carry cruise missiles. The explanation is simple: the Su-30MKI, which is the backbone of the Indian Air Force, can only carry one BrahMos cruise missile during a mission. I.e. the limited amount of cruise missiles under the wings of Indian fighter jets is insufficient to make India’s firepower projection strategy work.
Experts believe that New Delhi must respond to Beijing’s challenge. This Beijing is developing rapidly in terms of its defence industry and already operates its own H-6 bombers.
New Delhi years ago was interested in bombers. However, at that time the inquiry sent to Moscow was for the lease of T-22M, not for purchase. The cost of maintenance and servicing has deterred Indian buyers. Today, it would be almost impossible for India to acquire the T-22M even if it wanted to. First, because of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s need for every combat platform on the battlefield, and second, the US will not react very well to what is happening.
Of course, India’s refusal to lease the Tu-22M did not deter the Russians. They immediately proposed an equivalent in the form of the Su-34, which is a fighter bomber of considerable repute. But this fighter was designed more as an anti-ship strike bomber. Something India doesn’t need, for now. Again a refusal followed.
Whether New Delhi will accept the outstretched hand of the US or hold back and go ahead with acquiring the B-1B remains to be seen. However, the fact is that the opportunity is out there in the open.