India beefs up its strategic aircraft capability

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After much hullabaloo over last month’s pictures of China’s Y-20 strategic transport aircraft, Boeing announced the delivery of India’s first C-17A Globemaster III aircraft for flight testing at Edwards AFB in Palmdale, California.

The January 23rd press release indicates Boeing is on track to deliver an additional four C-17A before year’s end. The remaining five will have a 2014 delivery date, completing the $5.8 billion contract signed in June 2011.

The contract—which follows the arrival of the sixth and last C-130J Hercules from Lockheed Martin in December 2011–will see India become the second largest operator of the C-17 heavy lift aircraft only after the United States.

As such, many defense analysts continue to point to these contracts, inter alia, as key drivers for deepened US-Indo relations despite inherently complicated US export controls, and what are often viewed by Indian defense observers as diluted offset agreements for technology transfer.

DG (03APR12) Hindon Air Station C-130

Digital Globe imagery from 03 April 2012 show four Indian Air Force C-130J Hercules aircraft parked on the apron at India’s newly built C-130 maintenance facility at Hindon air station, Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Regardless of critiques, a review of January’s press releases also confirmed US firm, Rolls Royce, receiving a $6.7 million ‘power by the hour’ contract to support the AE 2100D3 turboprop engines of the C-130Js at Hindon Air Station, UP.

According to satellite imagery, the Indian air force constructed a new facility on Hindon’s southeast dispersal area in 2010 to support the recently received aircraft. The area, comprising three major support structures including two maintenance hangars and a large parking apron, easily accommodates India’s six C-130Js and any potential future C-130J acquisitions. (A contract for an additional six C-130J is planned, according to reporting by the Indian press).

The C-130J and the C-17A will form the backbone of India’s strategic airlift capability with the aircraft having maximum payload weights of 42,000 and 170,900 pounds, respectively.

Digital Globe imagery from 28 April 2012 show seven An-32 Cline parked near three primary maintenance hangars at India’s Kanpur Air Force Station’s repair depot in Uttar Pradesh.

Digital Globe imagery from 28 April 2012 show seven An-32 Cline parked near three primary maintenance hangars at India’s Kanpur Air Force Station’s repair depot in Uttar Pradesh.

Beyond US equipment, India has also been refurbishing their 104-strong, Soviet era Antonov An-32 Cline light transport aircraft in a $400 million Total Technical Life Extension contract signed in 2009 with the Ukraine.

In so doing, India’s An-32 will receive updated equipment including new radars and proximity warning systems as well as structural upgrades, with some sources indicating US-made components. India has already received the fourth batch in October 2012, making a total of twenty newly designated An-32REs returning to service.

India will continue to receive an additional twenty from the Kiev-based “Plant 410” with the contract expected to be filled by March 2014. The rest of India’s fleet will receive their upgrades at the repair depot based at Kanpur Air Force Station, UP under a technology transfer agreement.

With the upgrades, India’s An-32REs will fly for an additional 15 years with a maximum payload capacity increasing to 16,500 pounds. The aircraft are expected play an important role transporting troops and supplies, as India refurbishes the small airfields closer to China’s high mountainous border.

GeoEye imagery from 14 September 2012 shows at least four of India’s fourth batch of An-32REs parked on the maintenance apron at Kiev International Airport, recently modernized at the co-located Kiev State Enterprises Plant 410 (ГОСУДАРСТВЕННОЕ ПРЕДПРИЯТИЕ «ЗАВОД 410 ГА»).

GeoEye imagery from 14 September 2012 shows at least four of India’s fourth batch of An-32REs parked on the maintenance apron at Kiev International Airport, recently modernized at the co-located Kiev State Enterprises Plant 410 (ГОСУДАРСТВЕННОЕ ПРЕДПРИЯТИЕ «ЗАВОД 410 ГА»).

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