According to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, due attention is being paid to all assets of IAF, fighters and transporters included, and that “contract negotiations for 56 C-295 aircraft to replace the ageing Avro fleet are likely to commence shortly”.
Separately, official sources indicated that the Border Security Force (BSF) is also looking at four C-295s for movement of its troopers within the country. That takes the projected number to 60, but as the aircraft will be made in India by the Tata Group, their number should go up eventually, keeping in mind the regional connectivity plans of the Civil Aviation Ministry, particularly in India’s northern Himalayan cities.
Airbus officials have also said they are looking at a sizeable share of the Indian civil aviation market, pointing out that the C-295 is already operational in 19 countries.
The air chief’s statement is significant as it clearly indicates that the process of acquiring the C-295s is now on a firm track.
The aircraft is to be made in India by the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. (TASL) in partnership with Airbus, and as per their announcement in 2014, once a contract is awarded, Airbus Defence and Space will supply the first 16 aircraft in “fly-away” condition from its own final assembly line in Spain and the subsequent 40 aircraft will be manufactured and assembled by TASL. The arrangement will include undertaking structural assembly, final aircraft assembly, systems integration and testing, and management of the indigenous supply chain.
Asked how the IAF was overcoming many challenges in the transport domain, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said that IAF will also induct another six Lockheed Martin C-130J Special Operations aircraft within the first half of 2017 while one more Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic lift aircraft is being acquired to take their number to 11. Ten C-17s are already operational with the IAF.
It may be recalled that IAF has already inducted the first lot of six C-130Js. One of them, however, had crashed and a case has now been made for its replacement.
About the AN-32 aircraft, which is the workhorse of the IAF and has been under upgrades, he said that their first lot is due for “phase out in 2023-24 and a suitable replacement will be considered at an appropriate time”.
The IAF had acquired more than 100 AN 32s beginning mid-1980s from the Soviet Union, and these are being upgraded by Ukraine, which is now an independent state after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
About the Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) that was proposed (in 2007) to be designed and built in collaboration with Russia, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said that “the agreement with Russia for MTA could not mature as their proposal did not meet some of the Air Staff Qualitative requirements (ASRs)”.
(Air Marshal Jimmy Bhatia is Managing Editor of India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in)