C-17 A Carefully Considered Choice: IAF Chief

There’s been a healthy measure of skepticism recently about India’s decision to buy 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster-III heavylift transports from the US. Arguments against the purchase have ranged from questioning the need for such aircraft to calling attention to the huge acquisition cost, to suspicion about the speed from interest to potential contract conclusion, likely to take place when President Barack Obama is in Delhi later this year.

Well, for what it was worth, the Indian Air Force chief was asked today if the soon to be concluded C-17 deal was simply another piece of business thrown Washington’s way in line with India’s new strategic imperatives. Air Chief Naik replied, “A great amount of thought and planning has gone into our decision to obtain the C-17. My team did a detailed study about what was available and what capabilities were out there. There were no compulsions. We had requirements that dictated a certain amount of lift capacity and the ability to operate from short runways. The C-17 turned out to be the only aircraft in the global market that met both requirements. The other heavylift types, with six or eight engines, cannot function from short runways, and that was a basic requirement.”

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. DeNoris Mickle: Airmen from the 14th Airlift Squadron fly over South Carolina’s beaches from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., as a Boeing-built C-17 Globemaster III sheds a shadow on the water below

14 thoughts on “C-17 A Carefully Considered Choice: IAF Chief”

  1. Antonov An-124, Ilyushin Il-76, Lockheed C-5 Galaxy or Lockheed C-141 Starlifter may be heavier or lighter options, but obviously C-17 must have been a cleverly and carefully considered choice.

  2. What heavy lift aircraft in operation today or plane has eight engines?

    Did they make a cargo vesion of the B-52?


  3. I personally think that this decision of the IAF for a strategic very heavy lift a/c particularly with the capabilities of the C-17 was indeed a brilliant decision helped more so by India's sound financial position currently. Had this been 1989-1990, even if the then chief wanted it, we could not have bought it. I wonder why this decision is being questioned or for that matter even the C-130J is a brilliant choice for its assigned role n purpose.

  4. Pray ,,,what r we lifting here,,do we have anything to lift such heavy stuff in the first place,,shouldnt we first buy stuff to lift,,,like 155mm etc,,,only thing i can think of is relief aid during natural problems,,other than that what??

  5. As I had written some time ago, I am reminded of an article in VAYU magazine some years ago about how a T72 was squeezed inside an IL76 with great diffficulty. Given that, the C17 was shoo in for the air force as there are no other heavy lifters world wide. C5 and C141 are outdated, AN124/224 are as reliable or unreliable as the US. Which leaves only the C17 – even if we dont like it.

  6. Please appreciate the authorities when good stuff is bought.. just for once stop being critical of each and every purchase.. Things are changing and will keep getting better and better…

  7. the decisive period in the next india-china conflict is going to be the few days leading up to a point where war is imminent (h-hour). chinese have easier terrain in tibet and a better network of roads and some railways leading up to the jump off points on the border.
    from indian side, roads will ofcourse be fully maxed out, but vital and bulky eqpt like light howitzers, extra lines of ammunition, WLRs, small Spyder type AA units, Pinaka units may need to be rushed by whatever means possible into forward areas and this is where we need something to bulk up the small IL76 fleet. we need lots more MTA also when it arrives.

    AN124 line is some years away from being revived. when it is available with new engines and avionics, may be an option – atleast to established places like Leh.

  8. Hi Shiv,

    I have a doubt here, In that "notification to US congress", it is stated like there was no offset attached to this proposed deal, why it is so? According to latest procurement policy there should be some Offset should be implemented right. Why it is not followed in c-17 deal?

    Sivabalan K

  9. the only thing C-17 will lift is flood relief material like blanket ,rice etc and drop it in water not on peoples houses(remarkable accuracy).
    for god sake mod why dont you fast track purchase of 155 mm howizer or arjun.

    (you can even use it drop candies and sweets on christmas day or r day)

  10. I am not in the IAF Chief's shoes, so i think I will not fully realize why this capability is of such paramount importance-given the fact that the C-17 is not giving the IAF a capability it does not have currently.

    The capabilities of the C-17 which are being highlighted as important by the IAF Chief are

    1. Ability to Operate from short runways
    2. Carrying a certain load capacity.

    For Point 1: The shortest runways that the C-17 can take-off from is 3,500 feet. The IL-76 can take off from a 4,500 feet run-way. Are we buying the C-17 to cover this 1,000 feet difference? If yes, Great-go ahead and buy it, $ 6 Billion is anyway pocket-change. A CAG report 5 years down the line will criticize the platform for not being used for the purpose it was brought for. But i guess the current IAF chief will be in peaceful retirement by then, right?

    For Point 2: The C-17 can carry 77 tonnes of cargo in its bay which measures 26.82 metres by 5.49 metres. Cool. The IL-76 MF series has a bay measuring 20 metres by
    3.4 metres and a load capacity of 60 tonnes. Bad when compared to the C-17.

    To put this in perspective with Indian requirements- A T-90/T-72 Tank weighs 46.5 Tonnes, An Arjun weighs 58.5 Tonnes, A Bofors FH-77A weighs 11.5 Tonnes. From this list of heavy equipment, the IL-76 would not be able to carry the Arjun might which the C-17 would. All the others can be carried easily. But then, the Arjun is not assigned to any Strike Corps and as stated by the Indian Army, it never will. So the probability of the C-17 being asked to ferry the Arjun is extremely remote. I am sure the IAF Chief knows this.

    In addition, what usefullness would a load carrying capacity of 70 T versus 60T achieve? Can it carry 2 T-90's at the same time? No. But there is no debating that 77 Tonnes is better than 60 Tonnes.

    The downtime of the IL-76 would be obviously higher than the C-17. But as the AN-TPQ radar experience show, US equipment is not much better ( None of the AN-TPQ terrain locating radars bought in 2001 apparently work, 6 years after purchase-as per the Indian Army Chief).

    So, the moot question: Why are we paying $ 5.8 Billion for 10 C-17's, when we can buy 20 IL-78 CF's for $ 1 Billion with the added risk that the C-17 becomes show-pieces when hit by sanctions? Not that the Russians are saints, but we have the option to work with the Ruskies to make the IL-78 better (ala SUKHOI 30MKI)and the IAF already operate a huge IL-78 fleet. And for folks abusing the IL-78: we have our AWACS on the 78's. Do you think we would have chosen the 78 if it was down 50% of the time for the AWACS platform? (Answer: NO, A airplane is typically 15% of the cost of the AWACS platform btw)

    If the decision to all the above points is

    1. For an aircraft which can take-off from a strip 1000 feet shorter

    2. Greater payload of 10 tonnes.

    3. Perceived greater availability of the C-17 and ability to be operated by 3 people (as claimed in C-17 literature)

    Then i am afraid we are making the wrong decision. Obviously someone benefits by this wrong decision. Who it benefits, time & CAG/CBI/A future scam would un-earth (or not) 5 years down the line.

    Till then, as tax payers, bring on the extra tax on petrol, food, and salaries.


  11. Years ago the IAF had judged that its airlifting capabilities were grossly inadequate for wartime situations and that it needed to triple its lifting capacity. From that, and seeing the airlifting fleets of countries with similarly huge militaries, I welcome this purchase. If anything we need more C-17s; something like 30 planes would be a more comfortable number.

    Some have criticised the price but it appears the IAF has done its homework her; there are no foreign analogues in the C-17's weight class: the Il-76 has a tiny cargo bay, and the An-124 is out of production.

    My only concern is that the C-17A is limited in its capability to operate from unprepared airstrips: the IAF should have gone for the proposed C-17B upgrade with reinforced landing gear instead.

  12. There is a limit wrt load and areas where they such ACs can operate. USA and other countries r working on Airships which can carry twice or more the load a C5 or C17 can carry to areas inaccessible by air or road.

    India needs to give this a serious thought as due to vast inaccessible border regions, such Airships will be a major force multiplier.

  13. Lesson is simple.

    If the pocket is full, purchase C-17.

    If the pocket is half full, purchase IL-78.

    If the pocket is empty, get F-16s for free.

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