As the first of ten C-17 Globemaster III heavy airlifters being built by Boeing for India underwent a major production step with a ceremony in California, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has indicated that the C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft will take on the role of airlifting Special Forces in the event of terrorist attacks, hijacks and other national emergencies. In addition, India may soon have to take a decision on the follow-on order of C-17 aircraft since Boeing’s production line for C-17 may get shut down next year if new orders are not placed.
Air Marshal S.P. Singh, the outgoing Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Air Command, stated that C-17 transport aircraft has the capability to operate from small and rugged airstrips and in all-weather and light conditions. Hence, they will aid speedy ‘tactical airlift’ of troops and airdrop missions. The IAF will have these aircraft at the Hindan airbase, on the outskirts of Delhi, and the first batch of 30 crew members are currently undergoing training in the United States.
At present, India is the largest C-17 customer outside the US with its $4.12 billion purchase of ten C-17 heavy lift aircraft. The IAF will induct the first of the ten C-17 Globemaster-III planes in June 2013. The IAF would initially acquire one squadron of C-17’s and add six more squadrons of C-130 Hercules turbo-prop driven military transport aircraft in its fleet as well.
Meanwhile back in the US, the C-17 has undergone a significant production step at a ceremony organized at the Boeing facility in Long Beach, California. At a ceremony, Consul General of India in San Francisco N. Parthasarathi drove a rivet into the C-17 aircraft to mark the integration of the forward, centre and aft fuselages and wing assembly. This crucial programme milestone is known as the "major join." The ceremony was attended by Boeing, Indian embassy, senior Indian Air Force and local elected officials.
According to Bob Ciesla, Boeing Airlift vice president and C-17 programme manager, Boeing is preparing for India's first C-17 to enter flight test on schedule early next year. Boeing is also looking forward to providing for India's current and future needs and continuing to support C-17s long after they are delivered. Consul General of India in San Francisco N. Parthasarathi stated that it is momentous occasion where we see India's first C-17 take shape and further strengthen the strategic partnership in defence between India and US.
While India has placed the order for ten C-17 aircraft, a decision on the follow-on order for six more aircraft will have to be taken soon since the C-17 production line would be shut down once the ten C-17s for India and the US Air Force’s last seven aircraft have been produced. Apparently, India would need to take a decision on additional C-17s by the third quarter of next year, according to statements made by Boeing officials.
The C-17 will replace the obsolescent Russian IL-76 airlifter which has been with the IAF for two and half decades. The C-17 Globemaster III is a tactical and strategic airlifter and can land combat-ready troops in remote locations or airdrop them directly where needed. The C-17's ability to back up allows it to operate on narrow airstrips and. With a maximum payload of 75 tonnes, the C-17 can take off and land in merely 3,000 feet runway or less.
Interestingly, India has entered "performance-based logistics” contract with the Boeing company for the acquisition of C-17 aircraft. This will ensure that about 85 per cent of the C-17 fleet is always available and ready for operations. Boeing will facilitate spares and maintenance personnel for this on not just the US depots but on a "virtual fleet” that includes the six other forces that operate the C-17. India will join the unique international virtual fleet system that the US has by having 7 international hubs where spares are located to service the aircraft operated by several countries.