"There is nothing on our side, no principle which bars that on our side, Indian participation in the Joint Strike Fighter. Right now, they're focused on these aircraft which are top-of-the-line fourth-gen fighters," Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter said.
Headed to India in the coming weeks, Carter said the decision to pursue the F-35 is to be taken by India only.
Carter was delivering a key-note address on "US-India Defense Relations" at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the occasion of the release of a report on India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program.
At a cost of about USD 10 billion for 126 aircraft, the MMRCA competition is the largest Indian fighter tender in years.
Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the outcome of the selection process, which has garnered high-profile attention for its sheer size, its international political implications, and its impact on the viability of key aircraft manufacturers.
Carter argued that US-built F-16 and F/A-18 as being the most technologically advanced aircraft in the competition.
"I think that, without saying anything disparaging about the other entrants, both F/A-18 and the F-16 offers include the best technology," he said.
Authored by Ashley Tellis, the report says that in choosing an aircraft, the government of India must employ a speedy decision process that is focused on the right metrics, taking both technical and political considerations into account.
Tellis in his over 140 page report notes that the European aircraft are technically superb, but the US entrants prove to be formidable "best buys".
If Washington wants an American aircraft to win the game, however, it will need to offer generous terms on the transfer of technology, assure India access to fifth-generation US combat aircraft, and provide strong support for India's strategic ambitions to counter the perception that the older US designs in the MMRCA race are less combat effective, the report notes.
"Given the technical and political considerations, New Delhi should conclude the MMRCA competition expeditiously, avoid splitting the purchase between competitors, and buy the best aircraft to help India to effectively prepare for possible conflict in Southern Asia," the report said.
"Because of the dramatic transformations in combat aviation technology currently underway, the Indian government should select the least expensive, mature, combat-proven fourth-generation fighter for the IAF as a bridge toward procuring more advanced stealth aircraft in the future," it said.
"In making its decision, India's government must keep the IAF’s interests consistently front and center to ensure that its ultimate choice of aircraft is the best one for the service. This will not only help India to strengthen its combat capabilities in the coming years but position it as a rising global power worthy of respect far into the future," the report said.