Giving a major thrust to Indian Air Force's capability to swiftly move troops and tanks to battle fronts, defence minister AK Antony on Monday formally inducted its biggest 70-tonne C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft into service at the Hindon Air Base.
The plane's induction is a giant stride for the force and it will perform tactical and non-traditional operations also, he said.
The C-17 Globemaster III aircraft has been procured from the US under a deal expected to be over Rs 20,000 crore. A symbolic key of the plane was presented by the minister to the unit's commanding officer to mark its induction.
Speaking on the occasion, IAF chief NAK Browne said the plane will be operated from the advanced landing grounds in the northeastern states as well as from high altitude bases in north and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The C-17, with a capability to carry around 70 tonnes of load and around 150 fully geared troops, will replace the Russian IL-76 as the biggest aircraft in the IAF inventory till now.
The IL-76 has the capability to carry loads upto around 40 tonnes.
The IAF has placed orders with the US for ten C-17 aircraft under the deal signed in 2011 and three of them have already been delivered.
The US Air Force is scheduled to complete the delivery of all the 10 planes by the end of next year.
The aircraft is expected to enhance the operational potential of the IAF with its payload carriage and performance capability and would augment the strategic reach during disaster relief or any similar mission.
After the delivery of the 10 aircraft, the IAF may also exercise the option of procuring six more planes.
In recent times, the IAF has shifted its dependence from the Russian-origin aircraft towards the American ones with the induction of the C-17 and the C-130J Super Hercules transport planes.
The IAF operates six C-130Js and has plans of procuring six more for operations on small and unpaved runways alongside routine transport missions.
The force also has the Russian Antonov-32 in its inventory.