The moment. The C-17 lands at Hindan
By Ajai Shukla
A shorter version was in Business Standard, 19th Jun 13
India’s ability to defend the 3,500 kilometre Sino-India border got a boost today with the arrival of its first Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, widely regarded as the world’s most sophisticated, capable and expensive heavy-lift transport aircraft.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has contracted for ten C-17 airlifters for Rs 22,800 crore ($4.12 billion), which will make the IAF the largest C-17 operator other than the US Air Force which operates 224 of these airlifters. Boeing is required to deliver the first five C-17s this year, and the remaining five in 2014.
The IAF is pushing for an additional six C-17s, which would provide a lifeline to the C-17 production line at Long Beach, California, which creates some 5000 jobs at Long Beach and another 17,000 elsewhere in the US. According to current plans that line will be shut down by end-2014 after building India’s ten C-17s and the US Air Force’s last seven aircraft.
As of now, the IAF has until the end of 2013 to place the order, failing which the line will shut down.
“As of now, India would need to take a decision on additional C-17s by the third quarter of next year. There are other countries that are expressing interest in the C-17. If they place an order, India’s deadline would extend,” said Mark Kronenberg, Boeing’s International Business Development chief, to Business Standard last August during the “major join” ceremony of the IAF’s first C-17 at Long Beach.
The new C-17 squadron --- which the IAF has numbered 81 Squadron --- is based at Hindan, near Delhi. Ten flight crews --- each consisting of two pilots and a loadmaster --- are undergoing training at a US Air Force base in Altus, Oklahoma.
The uniquely capable aircraft, which can land and take off with a load of 74 tonnes from a one-kilometre-long stretch of hard unpaved mud, will allow the army to swiftly reinforce threatened sectors along the remote, Himalayan, northern border. In case of a threat to a particular sector, say Daulat Beg Oldi, the C-17 will allow troops, ammunition and equipment to be quickly built up there.
In Oct 1962, with the China war imminent, the IAF had airlifted AMX-13 light tanks to Ladakh, which were played a crucial role in the battles around Chushul.
The C-17 will replace the obsolescent Russian IL-76 airlifter, which has served the IAF since the early 1980s but is now unreliable. The IAF is impressed with the C-17’s abilities, especially after the performance it demonstrated on 20th June 2010, during trials in Ladakh. In the oxygen-thin air of that hot summer day, the IL-76 was unable to land even without a payload. The C-17, however, landed and took off with 30 tonnes on board.
The C-17 can also carry 134 fully equipped paratroopers over a distance of 10,000 kilometres, allowing the IAF to launch paratroopers anywhere in Asia, most of Europe and Africa, and even parts of Australia.
The MoD stated today: “The [C-17] aircraft will enhance the operational potential of the IAF with its payload carriage and performance capability and would augment the strategic reach of the Nation during disaster relief or any similar mission.”
A feature of the IAF’s C-17 purchase is a “performance based logistics” contract that has been signed with Boeing. This binds Boeing to ensure that some 85% of the C-17 fleet is always available and ready for operations. Boeing will position spares and maintenance personnel for this, drawing not just on depots in the US, but on a “virtual fleet” that includes the six other forces that operate the C-17.