Enhancement of strategic airlift capability of IAF

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1. In the previous chapters we discussed the need for the enhancement of strategic airlift capability of IAF and the requirement for new transport aircraft. A large number of aircraft are available in the world market. However unlike earlier procurements wherein our transport fleet was of erstwhile USSR origin, the changed world order as discussed earlier, has made US submit to India's strength and is willing to cooperate extensively in military hardware.

Types of Aircraft Avaialble and Advantages

2. C-130 Hercules. An aircraft of US origin the C-130 Hercules primarily performs the multiple mission tactical transport portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas. C-130s operate throughout the U.S. Air Force. Basic and specialized versions of the aircraft airframe perform a diverse number of roles, including airlift support, resupply, aeromedical missions, and natural disaster relief missions. In its personnel carrier role, the C-130 can accommodate 128 combat troops or 92 fully-equipped paratroops on side-facing seats. For medical evacuations, it carries 74 patients and two medical attendants. It has a range of 2,049 nautical miles with maximum payload of 19,958kgs. This range is sufficient for movement across the length and breadth of our country. Considering its track record it would be an ideal choice for not only special operations but also to fill the gap created by the exit of AN-12's. The role change (from roller to para / normal) takes place within minutes compared to over two hours in AN-32. The aircraft is also NVG compatible. It would be a successful replacement to AN-32 both for employment in Eastern as well as Northern sector. IAF is acquiring six of them and the serviceability status of 95% is expected. After initial usage IAF should go in for raising of three more squadrons. Aircraft is capable of in flight refueling.

3. C-17 Globemaster III. An aircraft of US origin, the C-17 Globemaster III is the newest, most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force. The C-17 is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases in the deployment area. The aircraft is also able to perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions when required. With a payload of 72.575 tonnes the C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 2,400 nautical miles. The aircraft is in flight refueling capable. The C-17 is designed to airdrop both equipment and 102 paratroopers. While its gross takeoff weight of 265.352 tonnes makes it comparable to IL-76, the aircraft has huge advantage in terms of load carriage and flying characteristics. Its cargo compartment width of 5.49 mtrs compared to 3.45mtrs of IL-76 makes it extremely suitable for carrying loads of Indian Army (Arjun and T-91 tanks). The design of the aircraft lets it operate through small, austere airfields. The C-17 can take off and land on runways as short as 3,000 feet (914 meters) and as narrow as 90 feet (27.4 meters) wide. Even on such narrow runways, the C-17 can turn around using a three-point star turn and its backing capability. The aircraft is operated by a crew of three (pilot, copilot and loadmaster), reducing manpower requirement risk exposure, and long-term operating costs. The thrust reversers direct the flow of air upward and forward to avoid ingestion of dust and debris. To negate the hostile environment in which aircraft has to operate the aircraft has all the modern avionics, SKE, Radar and Missile warning Radars. The aircraft also uses steeper landing approaches for increased survivability. This aircraft is under negotiation for purchase by Indian government. The IAF is initially going for 10 aircraft. With the phasing out of IL-76, IAF would need at least 15 more aircraft to sustain the airlift capability as brought out in chapter three. The range, speed, runway requirements, and cargo bay dimensions of this airlift aircraft would allow a broad range of on call capabilities, thus substantially reducing the need for forward area inventory stockpiles. C-17 can do almost all the roles that are expected to be undertaken by C-130. Therefore in case the MTA deal does not meet the envisaged timelines it would be prudent to go for more C-17 squadrons than C-130s. However this decision to be undertaken only after utilization of both the aircrafts in Indian environment. This would be significant as it will support the newly coined doctrine of cold start by Indian Army.

4. A 400M. An aircraft of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) origin, the Airbus A400M is a multi-national four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It was designed by Airbus Military as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities. The aircraft's maiden flight, originally planned for 2008, took place on 11 December 2009 in Seville, Spain. Currently 174 aircraft are ordered by 8 nations. Designed to airlift maximum cargo capacity of 37 tonnes/120 paratroopers, the aircraft is claimed to be capable of transporting 20 tonnes over a distance of 3,550nm. Its design will enable operation in areas with deficient infrastructure and on unpaved runways. The aircraft is supposed to have far superior performance than C-130 Hercules. It is also capable of changing its role into aerial tanker. The German newspaper Financial Times Deutschland has reported that the aircraft is overweight by 12 tons and may not be able to achieve a critical performance requirement, the ability to airlift 37 tons. The aircraft could only lift 29 tons, which is insufficient to carry a modern armored infantry fighting vehicle (like Puma).The chief of the German Air Force has remarked it to be a disastrous development. This could delay deliveries to the Luftwaffe until 2014. UK has procurred C-17s as an interim arrangement. Though the aircraft has been offered to India by France, in its present state it is not fit for employment in IAF.

5. AN-70. The AN-70 aircraft belongs to a new generation of the short takeoff and landing tactical military medium transport. The aircraft is capable to carry practically any item of the military armament and equipment with a total weight up to 35-47 tonnes of cargo over the 3,000-5,100km range. It can air drop personnel and vehicles, including the single piece of cargoes up to 21 tonnes with both high and low altitudes, delivery of 300 soldiers and evacuation of 206 wounded and sick persons. Maximum service range is 8,000km. Depending on the type of operation and takeoff weight, AN-70 can be operated both from the concrete runways of the 1,550-1,800m length and unpaved strips of the 600-700m length. When operating from the 600-700m lengths of unpaved runways, the AN-70 is capable to carrying 20 tonnes of cargo to the 3,000km range. Propfans ensure a high cruising speed and 20-30% fuel economy in comparison with modern turbojet airplanes. The integrated digital system of the airborne equipment provides operation of the aircraft in all weather conditions. Though flight tested in 1994, aircraft is yet to enter serial production due high costs. This has primarily happened due to devaluation of the Ruble in the wake of the August 1998 financial collapse. Thus, in the aircraft is unlikely to enter production and is thus not fit for employment in IAF in near future.

6. Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA). MTA is a medium-lift military transport aircraft which will be constructed by a joint-venture formed by the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) of Russia and the Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) of India. The aircraft will replace Indian Air Force's aging fleet of An-32 transport aircraft. The jet is expected to fly by 2014 and inducted by 2015/16. The agreement will chart out production for the armed forces of India and Russia, in addition to friendly third countries, a list of which has already been drawn up. The agreement also contains the agreed joint intention to and market a civilian variant of the MTA in the form of a 100-seater passenger airplane for which HAL will be the lead partner and principal integrator. The Indian part of serial production of the MTA, when ready, will take place at HAL's Transport Aircraft Division in Kanpur. The cabin size will be the same as the Ilyushin Il-76 but will be half the length. The payload will be 18.5 tons/88 paratroopers/100 combat troops of military or civilian cargo, with a range of 2500 km and a speed of 870 km/h. However, the agreement is yet to take off in its true spirit. The induction might get delayed and IAF may not get these aircraft till 2020. Therefore the contingency plan has to be catered for.

7. CN-295. The C-295 is a further development of the commercially successful Spanish-Indonesian transport aircraft CASA CN-235 with a stretched fuselage, 50% more payload capability. A twin engine aircraft has the maximum payload capacity of 9 tonnes. The aircraft can carry up to 71 troops; however, the range is restricted to only 720 nm in full load configuration. It possesses low level flying characteristics ideal for tactical penetration, maximum payload of 9 tonnes. The C-295 is equipped with integrated avionics incorporating digital cockpit displays and flight management system, enabling tactical navigation, planning and the integration of signals from several sensors. The C-295 has demonstrated her reliability and versatility in daily service with NATO coalition forces and other operators around the globe. Though the aircraft is capable of accomplishing most of the C-130s mission at a lower operating cost the aircraft does not have in flight refueling capability and therefore with limited range on full load, it is not considered the right aircraft for IAF of future. The aircraft could be considered in case of MTA deal does not come through.

8. C-27 J Spartan. A joint US and Italy venture the C-27 J Spartan tactical transport aircraft incorporates the same propulsion system and advanced avionics, logistical and maintenance characteristics as the C-130J Hercules. The maximum range is 1000 nm with 10 tonnes or 46 paratroops. The range at 6 tonnes payload is 2300 nm. C-27 J is fully interoperable with the C-130. The Spartan's large cargo cabin cross-section is able to accommodate Hercules pallets. The aircraft is a worthy replacement for AN-32. However it lacks air to air refueling, and thus is not a suitable replacement. Once again could be considered in case MTA deal does not come through. BSF plans to replace the Avro's with this aircraft.

9. A 330 MRTT. The Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) is an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft based on the civilian A330-200. The A330 MRTT has a fuel capacity of 111 tonnes. This fuel capacity allows the carriage of an additional 45 tonnes of cargo which is equivalent to the load of an entire IL-76. The A330 MRTT cabin can be modified to carry up to 380 passengers. The aircraft has the range of 8000 nm compared to 4000 nm of IL-78 presently held by IAF. IAF had selected this aircraft but the deal did not go through due to high cost as compared to IL-78. The cost of six A330 is Rs 8000 crore against the Rs 4800 crore cost of IL-78. The government needs to keep in mind the high serviceability of the aircraft and the life cycle cost while doing the final evaluation. IAF needs two squadrons of these aircraft.

10. EMB-145 (AEW&C). While IAF has two IL-76A50 and a few more are in pipeline, the efforts put in by HAL in developing the radar array for the AWE&C needs to complimented and encouraged. HAL is likely to test the indigenous system in Jan 11 which will be fitted on EMB-145. If successful, IAF would need three squadrons of such aircraft. These aircraft would replace the present Boeing and Avro.

11. EMB 135. These aircraft have performed well and six more need to be procured to replace the present Avros in VIP role.

12. Saras. Saras, if successful can replace Dorniers in a decade's time.

Recommendations for Future IAF Transport Airlift Capability

13. Having seen the various options available, the future inventory of IAF should look like as follows:-

Sl No

Type of ac








12 Squadrons

Limited Strategic airlift , Airborne operations, Air Maintenance High Altitude operations (each squadron 12 aircrafts)


Saras/ Dornier

2-4 Squadrons

Training, Communication Duties



4 Squadrons

Special operations, Tactical airlift and Airborne operations (each squadron six aircraft)



4 Squadrons

Strategic Airlift, Airborne Ops, Air Maintenance(each squadron six aircrafts)



1 Squadron

FRA(six aircraft)



2 Squadrons

FRA( each squadron six aircraft)


IL-76MD Platform


1 Squadron

ESM and Air Space Control

(six aircraft)


EMB-145 Platform AWACS


ESM and Air Space Control

(each squadron six aircraft)



As Required


13. The above recommendations take into account the importance of encouraging indigenous development. The 14 squadrons of MTA would replace the existing AN-32s. Since it is the first indigenous effort in transport aircraft, the serviceability status could be low in the initial years. A total of 12 aircraft in each squadron is suggested as against six in C-130 squadrons. With four squadrons of C-17 (six aircraft each) the total airlift capability of IAF would be as follows:-

Serial No





MTA (144 aircraft at 75% Serviceability)

108 x18.5 tonnes

6000 troops + equipment


C-130 (24 aircraft at 95% Serviceability)

22X19.5 tonnes

2000 troops + equipment


C-17 (24 aircraft at 95% Serviceability)

22X 72.5 tonnes

2000 troops + equipment

14. With the above airlift capability, IAF would be able to move 10,000 troops and their equipment (load of one airborne division) in one single wave without any refueling halt. Since actual serviceability status has been taken into account some aircraft would always be available for disaster management even in such a scenario. The three squadrons of Flight Refueling aircraft (FRA) are needed not only for the expected 40 fighter squadrons by 2025 but also for the new transport aircraft which would all be air to air refueling capable.