India will buff up its combat edge next year with the induction of a new set of warfighting capabilities sourced from the US under contracts totaling more than $6.2 billion (Rs 34,720 crore).
The first of the 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft --- ordered last year --- will be delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in June next year. India has forked out $4.1-billion (Rs 22,960 crore) to buy the US Air Force's workhorse used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, making it the largest defence contract to have been signed by the two governments.
The Indian Navy will sharpen its anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities as it inducts the first of the eight P-8I aircraft --- ordered in 2009 --- next May to replace its ageing fleet of Soviet-era Tu-142s.
High-end military technology doesn't come cheap. Worth $ 2.1 billion (Rs 11,760 crore), the planes will shape the navy's air power beyond 2050. India may order four more of these.
The C-17 can takeoff from a 7,000-foot airfield with 72,574 kg of payload, fly 4,481 km and land on a small, unprepared runway measuring less than 3,000 feet. The four-engine plane can deliver three infantry combat vehicles or a main battle tank or a heavy-lift chopper to forward bases in a single deployment. It can airdrop 102 paratroopers and equipment.
"The IAF's IL-76 (a Russian airlifter) could not fly in loads due to factors such as temperature and altitude when trials were conducted in Leh in June 2010. The C-17 ferried 30 tonnes of stores in the same conditions. It will meet India's needs for military and humanitarian airlift," said Patrick Druez, who heads Boeing military aircraft's mobility division for several global markets including India.
Currently, 10 IAF crews --- 20 pilots and 10 loadmasters --- are training on the C-17 at the Altus Air Force base in Oklahoma. India 1 --- the nomenclature for the IAF's first C-17 --- is expected to be test flown in January 2013.
Boeing integrated the forward, centre and aft fuselages and the wing assembly of the aircraft last week at Long Beach, California, in what is known as a "major join ceremony" in aviation parlance.
Boeing has delivered 245 C-17s worldwide, including 217 to the USAF. Other operators include Australia, Canada, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the UK. All 10 aircraft will be delivered to the IAF by August 2014, making it the largest operator of the Globemaster III outside the US.
Empty order books will force the shutting down of the C-17 production line in Long Beach in September 2014. If India chooses to place a follow-on order, the decision will have to be made before the end of next year, Druez said.
The navies of both countries will simultaneously induct the P-8 next year --- a military derivative of Boeing's 737-800 commercial aircraft and christened P-8A for the US Navy. Boeing will deliver the first 'P-8I submarine hunter' to the Indian Navy --- the first international customer for the plane ---next May and the remaining seven by 2015.
The planes will be based at INS Rajali in Tamil Nadu.
The Indian Navy has sought a few extra components on the P-8I that set it apart from the US Navy variant. An aft radar in the P-8I's tail-cone will allow the plane a 360 degree sweep, compared to 240 degrees that the P-8A radar delivers.
The Indian plane also comes equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), a feature that would help it "differentiate a blue whale from a submarine," said Leland Wight, P8I programme manager.
The long-range maritime patrol aircraft --- armed with torpedoes, bombs and missiles --- will also provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the navy. Weapon trials on the P-8I will be completed in the US by August.
"India has awarded deals worth more than $9 billion (Rs 50,400 crore) to the US in the last four to five years and there's more to come," India's Consul General in San Francisco N Parthasarathi said in Long Beach. He was probably hinting at the $1.2 billion (Rs 6,720 crore) Indian attack helicopter competition in which Boeing has emerged as the frontrunner with its AH-64D Apache offer.
(The writer was in the US at the invitation of The Boeing Company)