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IAF looks at US C-17s to replace Russian aircraft

Afile photo of A C-17 Globemaster III from the 14th Airlift Squadron, Charleston Air Force Base.

NEW DELHI (BNS): The Indian Air Force (IAF) has shortlisted the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III as the main contender for its new Very Heavy Lift Transport Aircraft (VHTC) bids.

The aircraft was on the top in the tenders after IAF carried out a thorough study on its capability to take-off and land on short runways with heavy loads, long range and ease of operation, PTI quoting IAF sources said here Monday.

Initially, IAF would go in for 10 C-17s through the US government's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. "The Defence Ministry is at present considering the proposal. If accepted, the aircraft should be inducted in about three years after signing of a contract," the sources said.

In fact, most of IAF's transport aircraft were acquired in the 1980s and the air force is keen to acquire new generation aircraft to replace and augment its fleet.

IAF, currently, has about 100 mediumlift AN-32 aircraft and around 20 heavylift IL-76 aircraft. C-17s are considered as a replacement for the Russian-made IL-76s. The Il-76 platform is also doing service as the IAF's mid-air refuelling aircraft, as well as its AWACS platform.

While an IL-76, with a six-member crew, can carry a cargo of 45 tonnes, the C-17, powered by four Pratt & Whitney F-117-PW-100 turbofan engines, can carry 70 tonnes and has a three-member crew, industry sources said. It can also carry two observers on board whenever necessary.

In fact, the C-17 is quite a massive aircraft -- it is 174-feet long and 55-feet high with a 170-feet wingspan. But it can be flown by a pilot with a simple joystick, which can be lifesaving in a battle zone given its quick take-off capability at steep angles.

The aircraft, which has midair refuelling capability, has been the mainstay of the US forces for deployment overseas and is the lifeline of US and NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, industry sources said. It can also carry large equipment, including tanks and supplies apart from troops, directly to small airfields in harsh terrain anywhere in the world day or night, they added.

India has been having problems relating to spares and supplies for the Soviet-origin aircraft, IL-76s and AN-32s. It is at present in the process of finalising a deal with Ukraine for upgrading the 20-tonne AN-32s. 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, IAF chief of air staff, air chief marshal PV Naik said.

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