Saturday, November 6, 2010

Transport fleet woes force IAF to look West

BANGALORE: Hampered by the lack of spare parts and serviceability issues, India is increasingly looking West for its military transport aircraft fleet, even as it beefs up its presence along its borders.

The military is currently served by two squadrons of the IL-76, its flagship transport aircraft, and little over a 100 medium-range airlifters, the AN-32. Even as its northern neighbours, China and Pakistan, step up their aggressive posturing, the country is facing a serious shortfall of airlifters.

“We need to have more aircraft, considering the amount of troop movement that is happening, and more importantly, those expected to take place at our borders. While we do have the IL-76 and the AN-32, it may not be enough,” air marshal (retd) BU Chengappa pointed out.

The serviceability of the IL-76 has also been called into question. Since the aircraft is manufactured in Uzbekistan , there is a constant lack of spare parts, adding to IAF woes. “The spares availability of the IL-76 is not good. We have to get them from Russia , and that takes a lot of time, and additionally, they are not easily available. Secondly, it is not economically viable to set up an overhauling facility for the IL-76 in India. So, it is not the best situation to be in,” Mr Chengappa said.

Over the last two years, New Delhi has been increasing its military presence along its borders with China and Pakistan, with several underutilised airfields in the process of being upgraded.

“The Rs 1,000-crore Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure plan has been formulated to ensure that a huge number of IAF bases are equipped to handle not just the Sukhoi-30 MKI combat aircraft, but also our transport aircraft,” said air commodore (retd) Jasjit Singh, who heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Air Studies, a major think tank for the IAF.

Since 2001, the Chinese have been putting finishing touches on their version of the Lockheed Martin C-130 J, the Shaanxi Y-9, while rumour also abound that it plans to start manufacturing a 200-tonne airlifter, based on the IL-76 design.

India’s refusal to sign three strategic agreements with the United States could see it receiving its muchrequired military transport aircraft from the US, shorn of critical electronic systems, a situation that could hamper its border defences. The six Lockheed Martin C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft purchased by the country in 2008, and to be delivered in January 2011, will be delivered without, roughly, five communication interfaces, due to the country refusing to sign the agreements.

New Delhi’s position, shaped largely by the hardball stand adopted by the IAF, has found a great deal of support amongst the country’s defence personnel and analysts, who argue that the strategic agreements, Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), infringe on its military sovereignty.

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