New Delhi: Boeing has scored another significant gain in the Indian defence market with the Indian Air Force (IAF) shortlisting the company's C-17 Globemaster III as its new Very Heavy Lift Transport Aircraft (VHTAC). According to IAF chief of air staff, air chief marshal PV Naik, the aircraft's selection has been made keeping in mind its ability to take off and land on short runways with heavy loads, long range, and ease of operation.
In an interview to a local defence magazine, ACM Naik said the force was looking at acquiring ten C-17s initially, with aircraft deliveries likely to commence about three years after the signing of a contract. The deal would very likely be struck through the US government's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme and a proposal in this regard was under consideration by the ministry of defence (MoD), he said.
The IAF transport command currently operates a fleet of approximately 100-plus medium-lift An-32s and approximately 20 heavy-lift Ilyushin-76 aircraft. Spares are increasingly a problem with facilities spread out over a number of newly independent states formed after the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union. The Il-76 platform is also doing service as the IAF's mid-air refuelling aircraft, as well as its AWACS platform.
With the Antonov manufacturing facilities now located inside the newly independent country of Ukraine, an agreement would very likely be signed with it for the up-grade programme of the An-32s, the air chief said.
While the Il-76 can carry a cargo of around 45 tonnes with a crew of six, the Boeing C-17 can carry 70 tonnes with a smaller crew of two pilots and one loadmaster, making it a total of three. This economy of manpower it achieves because of its various power-assisted systems.
It can also seat two observers.
ACM Naik also said that the IAF urgently required contemporary and futuristic aircraft. He said the government shared the armed forces concern and the pace to renew IAF's assets was on schedule.
He said that the IAF would achieve its optimum level of 45 squadrons by 2020-25. Currently, the force was down from its sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons, to around 30-32. The trend had been arrested somewhat with the induction of more Su30-MKIs.
India had given an additional order of 40 Su30-MKIs to Russia to take the overall acquisition number of this aircraft to 230.
ACM Naik, who assumed charge on 31 May from ACM FH Major, would be visiting the Paris Air Show along with other senior IAF officers.
He also mentioned that the IAF was also looking at acquiring more AWACS but only after studying the functioning of the newly acquired Phalcon AWACS. The first of these aircraft was delivered last month and the remaining two would be delivered by Israel in 2010.
He also pointed out that the IAF had short-listed the Airbus A330 MRTT to augment its midair refueller fleet and this proposal was being processed by the MoD. The IAF is already operating a fleet of six IL-76-based aerial refuellers, designated as IL-78.
The C-17, a mainstay of the US forces for worldwide deployment, is a high-wing, 4-engine, multi-service T-tailed military-transport that can carry large equipment including tanks, supplies and troops directly to small airfields in harsh terrains anywhere in the world in day or night conditions.
The massive aircraft can take off from a 7,600-ft airfield, carry a payload of 160,000 pounds, fly 2,400 nautical miles, refuel in-flight for longer range and land in 3,000 ft or less on a small, unpaved or paved airfield in day or night conditions.