Hindon: Defence Minister A K Antony on Monday made
it clear that the IAF Chief's planned visit to China has not been called off
amid indications that the schedule is now expected to be reworked.
It is "not correct. The IAFChief is going wherever
he is invited and as per his wishes. He accepts invitations and goes... All
other things are speculation. Whenever he is invited by any friendly country
and he accepts, he is free to go," he told reporters here after the formal
induction of C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft into the IAF.
The Minister was replying to question on reports
that the government had cancelled Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne's proposed
visit to China in September-October.
Sources said the government was earlier not planning
to approve the visit of Browne to China this year but indicated that the visit
schedule may now be reworked.
The trip was proposed in IAF chief's annual foreign
visit schedule but the final clearance from the authorities and the Ministry
concerned have not yet been given, they said.
They said it was felt that the IAF chief's trip
should not be approved due to the lack of reciprocal high-level visits by the Chinese
side to India.
Addressing the gathering, Antony said the induction
of the C-17 aircraft is a defining moment for the IAF. The government, he said,
is fully committed to meeting the modernisation requirements of the force.
The induction of the aircraft with
"wide-ranging" capabilities to carry out "complex"
operational tasks is another chapter in the longstanding strategic partnership
between India and the US, the Minister said.
Referring to the capabilities of the C-17 plane, the
IAF chief said the US-made heavylift aircraft can land at small airbases such
as Daulat Beg Oldie in Ladakh sector where a C-130J Super Hercules plane had
made its first landing recently.
"C-17 can also land on airfields such as the
DBO. It needs only 3,500 feet to land whether it is hinterland or border.
Wherever it is required, we will send it," Browne said.
The first C-17 plane inducted into the force in June
has flown an infantry contingent to an airbase in Andaman and Nicobar Islands,
he said, adding that it has also made a landing at a high altitude area base in
the northern region.
The four-engine aircraft can take off with 70-tonne
payload and fly upto a distance of 4,200 km non-stop.
Browne said the C-17 has added immensely to the
"operational response" capabilities of the IAF and would be available
for humanitarian assistance roles for neighbouring countries as well as nations
in the Indian Ocean region.
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