New Delhi: Bolstering Indian Air Force`s capability to swiftly transport combat troops and equipment such as tanks to the front, Defence Minister AK Antony on Monday formally inducted its biggest 70-tonne C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft into service at the Hindon Air Base near here.
The plane`s induction is a giant stride for the force and it will perform tactical and non-traditional operations also, he said.
The C-17 Globemaster III aircraft has been procured from the US under a deal expected to be over Rs 20,000 crore. A symbolic key of the plane was presented by the minister to the unit`s commanding officer to mark its induction.
Speaking on the occasion, IAF chief NAK Browne said the plane will be operated from the advanced landing grounds in the northeastern states as well as from high altitude bases in north and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The C-17, with a capability to carry around 70 tonnes of load and around 150 fully geared troops, will replace the Russian IL-76 as the biggest aircraft in the IAF inventory till now.
The IL-76 has the capability to carry loads up to around 40 tonnes.
The IAF has placed orders with the US for 10 C-17 aircraft under the deal signed in 2011 and three of them have already been delivered.
The US Air Force is scheduled to complete the delivery of all the 10 planes by the end of next year.
Once India receives its full complement of 10 aircraft, it will be the largest C-17 operator outside the US. In operation since 1991, the C-17 has been used in humanitarian and military missions around the world and recently surpassed 2.6 million flight hours.
The aircraft is expected to enhance the operational potential of the IAF with its payload carriage and performance capability and would augment the strategic reach during disaster relief or any similar missions.
After the completion of the 10 aircraft, the IAF may also exercise the option of procuring six more planes for its fleet.
Boeing has delivered 256 C-17s, including 222 to the US Air Force and a total of 34 to Australia, Canada, India, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the 12-member Strategic Airlift Capability initiative of NATO and Partnership for Peace.
In recent times, the IAF has shifted its dependence from the Russian-origin aircraft towards the American ones with the induction of the C-17 and the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft.
The IAF operates six C-130Js and has plans of procuring six more for operations on small and unpaved runways alongside routine transport missions.
The IAF also has the Russian Antonov-32 in its inventory.