Indian Air Force Carrying Out a Comprehensive Study to Identify Transport Fleet, Payload-Carrying Requirements

Indian Air Force

New Delhi: Looking to procure Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA), the Indian Air Force (IAF) is carrying out a comprehensive study to identify the current and future payload-carrying requirements of the force.

Considering the change in the nature of airlift and support for the Army required in high-altitude areas, IAF has already issued a Request For Information (RFI) to global manufacturers for aircraft with load-carrying capacity between 18 to 30 tonnes. The RFI for a MTA was issued in December 2022 and the deadline to respond was extended till March 31, 2023. According to officials, there are three responses to the RFI and these include Airbus A-400M, Lockheed Martin C-130, and Embraer C-390. Among them, the A-400M has a maximum carrying capacity of 37 tonnes, the C-130 close to 20 tonnes, and the C-390 up to 26 tonnes.

“There is a need to identify the current payload-carrying capacity. IAF is also in discussions with vendors. The study is ongoing and should take about six months to be completed,” an official source said. This comes as several of the legacy transport fleets are in need of replacement. The exact requirements of the MTA would be finalised based on the outcome of the study, the source stated.

The procurement of MTA could become a potential replacement for a part of the AN-32s in service and could also replace the IL-76. As the Army is looking to procure a light tank weighing up to 25 tonnes for deployment in the mountains especially in Eastern Ladakh based on the experiences of the stand-off, IAF needs sizeable number of aircraft to airlift them and the MTA with the requisite load capacity can cater to that, several officials noted. There is a huge gap in carrying capacities at the moment with the current aircraft which needs to adjusted, one of the officials said.

Currently, the transport fleet of the IAF consists of over 100 AN-32s, AVROs, IL-76 heavy transporters, IL-78 mid-air refuelling tankers from Russia, as well as 12 C-130J Super Hercules and 11 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift aircraft from the US. Of these, the IL-76 has a capacity to lift 45-50 tonnes and the C-17 up to 70 tonnes.

The Defence Ministry signed a Rs 21,935-crore contract with Airbus and Space S.A., Spain in September 2021, for procurement of 56 C-295MW transport aircraft to replace the AVRO aircraft in service which is being executed in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and a final assembly line is being set up in Vadodara, Gujarat, as part of the deal. The first C-295 aircraft is scheduled to be delivered to IAF in September. The C-295 has a capacity of nine tonnes and can carry up to 71 troops or 50 paratroopers. Part of the AN-32 fleet could be replaced with C-295s which are of similar category, officials stated.

The vendors have been asked to provide “Rough Order of Magnitude [ROM] cost of aircraft and associated equipment” for a batch of 40, 60, and 80 aircraft as the RFI did not specify the number of MTA required. According to officials, the number required is being assessed and the study will bring out the number required.