The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Saturday inducted its latest acquisition from the United States of America, the C130J Super Hercules tactical airlift transport aircraft at the Hindan airbase here with Defence Minister A.K. Antony handing over the ceremonial key at a brief function.Signalling a shift in the strategic direction for sourcing major defence systems. Induction marks a shift in India’s defence procurement strategy
Defence Minister A K Antony alights from a Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules aircraft during a ceremony to mark the plane’s induction into the Indian Air Force’s transport fleet at the Air Force Station at Hindon on Saturday. Until recently most of India’s defence systems and equipment were predominantly sourced from Russia, and the US was an insignificant source.
The tactical transport plane, inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) here in the 77 Squadron, is the first major buy from the US in over four decades, and represents a significant milestone in a decade-long bilateral engagement to rework Indo-US defence ties.
The six transport aircraft deal signed in 2008 costs India $ 1.2 billion. The remaining five aircraft are likely to arrive in the country for induction by the year- end.Aero India 2011 debut
The latest IAF aircraft — named Veiled Vipers — will make its debut at Aero India, 2011, at Yelahanka air station in Bangalore next week. The importance attached to the induction ceremony by the Indian and the US sides was evident at the Hindon base as besides IAF chief P V Naik, Defence Minister A K Antony, US Ambassador Timothy Roemer and Chief of Staff of US Air Force Gen Norton A
Schwartz were present on the occasion.
The last time India had bought a major US military aircraft was way back in the mid-1960s. The C-130 J Super Hercules tactical aircraft can insert commandos in counter-insurgency or anti-Naxal operations even in pitch-dark nights besides ferrying troops to border areas. “The aircraft can undertake high-speed precision airdrops even in black-out conditions. It has full night vision and can change its configuration rapidly both in air and on ground, and require minimum ground support,” said Group Captain Tejbir Singh, first commanding officer of the 77 Squadron, which will be stationed at Hindon, about 40 km from the national capital.
With the motto “Kill with Stealth”, the 'Veiled Vipers’ most important task would be in commando operations, which will begin by integrating the IAF Special Forces, Garudas, with this unit. The tactical airlift aircraft will be able to undertake quick deployment of the Special Forces in all-weather conditions.
It also has self-protection suite to survive in a hostile environment and air-to-air refuelling capability increasing its strategic reach. India is also in discussion with the US to buy another six of these tactical transport planes.Diverse Roles
In wartime, the aircraft can be employed for special air operations, airborne operations, air transported operations, air supply and maintenance operations. During peacetime, its roles include operations and maintenance in mountainous terrain in adverse circumstances and humanitarian assistance.IAF pilots, who were trained in various U.S. Air Force bases, flew the plan to India. The squadron will be headed by Group Captain Tejbir Singh. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the delivery of the rest of the five aircrafts will happen in phases through this year. The contract for these aircraft was signed in 2008, estimated to cost under $ 1.2 billion under the Foreign Military Sales programme.
While there are reports that the IAF plans to acquire six more C130 J Super Hercules aircraft, the Minister did not make any categorical announcement besides stating that the present number is not enough for the Force, which needs more transport aircraft.
The U.S. Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer, Chief of Air Staff of U.S. Air Force General Norton A. Schwartz, Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal N.A.K. Browne and the Chief of Western Air Command Air Marshal D.C. Kumaria, officials from the U.S Embassy and top brass of the IAF attended the event.
“The number of transport aircraft in the IAF will increase…. The IAF will get all C-130J this year,” Antony said. India has been sourcing its major defence systems from Russia. But with the IAF, Indian Navy and Army planning to build a futuristic force, and its defence cooperation with the US growing, Delhi is turning to the US to source high-tech military hardware.
Mr. Antony said the formidable aircraft joining the IAF fleet would add more muscle to the force and help in its modernisation. He said the government is fully committed to provide the latest and best equipment and will not spare any effort to ensure the IAF to retain its qualitative edge.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik described the Super Hercules as the most potent and versatile aircraft as the IAF moves towards maintaining aerospace dominance. He said after a gap of over two decades, the IAF inducted an American military aircraft into its inventory.
The US is a hot contender for bagging a contract from India to procure long-range military transport aircraft to gradually replace the existing Russian-supplied IL-76 aircraft. The proposal to buy C-17 long range transport aircraft from the US is under advanced stage of consideration. Antony said the proposed deal was in the final stages. The deal to buy 10 C-17 aircraft may cost $2.4 billion. In 2009, Delhi finalised a $2.1 billion deal with the US to buy P8i long range naval reconnaissance aircraft. But the aircraft is yet to be delivered.
Under consideration is also the acquisition of heavy-duty attack helicopters from the US. India plans to acquire 22 of these helicopters, which is likely to cost up to $1.5 billion.Over the last few years, India has bought from the US some second-hand systems, mainly to deal with urgent requirements. This included the purchase and induction of “INS Jalashwa” — previously known as “USS Trenton” — in 2007 - and some units Thales-Raytheon Systems AN/TPQ37 (V)3 Firefinder Artillery Radar.