New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) will buy one more Lockheed Martin C 130J Super Hercules medium-lift aircraft apart from the 12 contracted for to make up for the loss of one plane in an accident in March.
The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, told a magazine in an interview that the induction of the C-130Js, as also the heavy-lift Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs had "brought about a paradigm shift in our airlift capabilities".
The IAF had initially acquired six C-130Js, and over three-and-a-half years of operations so far, the aircraft have played a highly significant role in disaster relief, setting global standards. Acknowledging this, the air chief said that six more C-130Js were to arrive by 2016 and would be deployed in eastern India.
As for the lost aircraft, which crashed during a tactical exercise near the Indian capital, he said a replacement aircraft was being ordered to maintain the envisaged strength.
The magazine quoted the air chief as saying: "While the C-17 had "enhanced our strategic footprint," the C-130J "has emerged as a significant enabler for Special Operations, besides being extensively deployed for varied tasks".
"We expect to induct more of these platforms as we gain more experience in their utilisation and expand upon their roles," he said, without defining numbers and timelines. IAF does indeed require more combat and transport aircraft, but how many it orders and when would depend upon the availability of funds.
As for the C-17s, six have already been delivered and the remaining four of the 10 ordered so far are due within the next four months by end-2014.
The IAF has projected a requirement of a second lot of eight C-17s followed by a third lot of another six. A final decision is pending. A window to order a few more C-17s is there but this may be lost if India does not exercise it soon as the factory would be closing in the near future. Boeing though has said that it has made long-term arrangements for spares and service support to the C-17 fleets around the world.
Notably, the C-130J is designed on a platform made half a century ago and has earned the reputation for being sturdy and one of the safest aircraft in the world.
A few years ago, Lockheed Martin had mooted a proposal to shift its manufacturing plant to India if the IAF and civil authorities would commit purchase of a minimum of 40 aircraft, saying it could be deployed economically in India`s tough northeastern and mountainous region on short, unpaved airfields by civil airlines.
The aircraft is also used in VIP configuration in some countries.