From this June onwards, India will finally begin to add some real strategic airlift muscle. IAF's capability to swiftly transport combat troops and war-fighting equipment to distant battle-fronts will be hugely bolstered with the induction of the gigantic C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft.
Under the largest defence deal inked with the US till now, the 10 C-17 aircraft contracted for $4.1 billion in mid-2011 will begin to touchdown in India in June. All 10 will be place at the Hindon airbase, on the outskirts of New Delhi, by June 2015. ``IAF pilots and technicians are being trained in batches in the US to operate the aircraft, even as the infrastructure comes up in Hindon,'' said an official.
Defence minister A K Antony on Monday also told Lok Sabha that the C-17s were ``capable of conveying combat units and their equipment'', with a load of 70-tonne, to a distance of 4,200-km ``in a single hop''. With a 40-tonne load, the range can be extended to 9,000-km.
"This coupled with a short turnaround time and modern avionics allows the C-17s to be deployed rapidly to any place within our areas of interest. The procurement of C-17 aircraft will enhance the strategic airlift capability of IAF," added Antony.
The use of ``our areas of interest'' is significant since, as per the defence establishment, India's ``primary areas of geo-strategic interest'' stretches from Persian Gulf right across to Malacca Strait. India is likely to go in for another six C-17s after the first 10 as a follow-on contract, much like it is now ordering another six C-130J ``Super Hercules'' tactical airlift aircraft after inducting the first six from US in a $1.2 billion contract.
While the first six C-130Js in the 77 `Veiled Vipers' Squadron are based at Hindon, like the C-17s will be, the next six will be located at Panagarh in West Bengal to take care of the eastern sector with China. The new mountain strike corps to be raised by the Army, at cost of Rs 81,000-crore over the 12th (2012-2017) and 13th Plans (2017-2022), is also to have its headquarters in Panagarh.
Both the rugged C-17s and C-130Js can land even at small forward airbases on semi-prepared runways, which will be crucial for India to counter China's massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, which includes an extensive rail and road network as well as five fully-operational new airbases in Tibet.
The four-engine C-17s, for instance, are capable of transporting tanks and troops after taking off from a mere 7,000-feet airstrip. At present, IAF has just a dozen Russian-origin IL-76 `Gajraj' aircraft, with its medium-lift fleet comprising 103 Russian AN-32 aircraft and the six C-130Js. The C-17s and the C-130Js will come into play with India progressively upgrading ``advanced landing grounds'' along the border with China, especially in eastern Ladakh.
Times of India