As the Russian Ilyushin-76 remains grounded, India has realized that sometimes buying cheap is not the best option. In a sign of increasing Indo-US military ties and India's increasing defence budget, India has started negotiating the purchase of C-17 globemaster aircrafts from the US government in a deal worth approximately US$1.7 billion.
Wing Commander Raghu Rajan (ret.) says that the induction of the C-17 would enhance India’s capability to mobilise more number of troops in a short-span of time, since they are bigger than the IL-76 aircrafts we presently use. He further adds that the ability of a nation to win wars depends on two factors: decision making and swift mobilisation of resources, hence it is in the second aspect that this aircraft would prove to be an invaluable asset for the IAF and India.
As a part of its modernisation program and to counter the growing threat perception from its big neighbor China, the IAF has initiated a slew of measures like opening three new advanced landing grounds (ALG) in the past two years and going in for large scale acquisitions. The latest being Nyoma in eastern Ladakh, just 23 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, which was opened in September this year. The other two ALGs are Daulat Beg Oldi, the world's highest airfield at 16,200 feet, in May last year and Fuk Che in November that year. The C-17 have better ability to land in remote, lesser developed forward air-bases that would be critical to stop any Chinese advances in places like Arunachal. Separately, India is trying to catch up with China's lead in building rail and road infrastructure that would help the local economy and also to mobilse troops and equipment quickly. The heavy lift aircraft was recently in India to take part in the joint air-lift exercise, which was held in Agra between 19-23 October. The deal, which is expected to be finalised by early 2010 would be Boeings second largest deal with New Delhi, US$ 2.1 billion agreement in January this year to purchase eight P-8 maritime patrol aircraft being the largest.
The heavy-lift US aircraft had also show-cased it’s flying abilities at the Aero India in February earlier this year. It has drawn favors from the Indian establishment for its ability to operate from runways as short as 3,500 feet and as narrow as 90 feet besides this, the C-17 has been equipped with thrust reversers that can be used to back the aircraft and reverse direction on narrow taxiways using a three-point turn manoeuvre.
The IAF has also placed the orders for six C-130J aircraft from the United States, the deliveries for which will commence in 2011 and is in the process of finalising the orders for 126 multi role combat aircrafts, apart from the 197 Light Utility Helicopters it is looking to procure.
Brazil manufactured Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) radars were also received by the IAF earlier this year. The picture for the IAF due to its ambitious modernisation plan looks good, however, we need to step-up the pace because the mainstay of air forces fixed wing transport division the An-32 AND IL-76 aircraft have completed their calendar life as per the Soviet manufacturer’s specifications. Both are on their extended lives, and could go on for another 10 to 15 years.