Defence Minister A K Antony formally commissioned the aircraft into the newly formed 77 Squadron of the IAF by handing over the keys of the aircraft to Unit Commanding Officer (CO) Group Captain Tejbeer Singh at Hindon air base near UP.
“C-130J will help the IAF to maintain its qualitative edge and enhance its war fighting capabilities,” Antony said in his address at the induction ceremony.
Besides the Defence Minister, IAF chief P V Naik and the American Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer were also present at the ceremony.
The C-130Js, the latest version of Hercules with four powerful engines and around 20-tonne payload-carrying capacity, will enhance India’s rapid reaction capabilities since the rugged aircraft can land on unprepared and short air fields as well.
Asked if the IAF would exercise the option of procuring another six aircraft, the Defence Minister said, “We will increase the number of aircraft in the transport fleet of the IAF”.
“The process to get the C-17 heavy-lift aircraft is in the final stages. We are not satisfied with six C-130J only.”
With its 20-tonne payload capacity, the aircraft will also help the IAF bridge the gap in load-carrying capabilities of the Russian Ilyushin-76 and Antonov-32, which can ferry loads up to 40 tonnes and 8 tonnes respectively.
The contract with the US includes training of aircrew and maintenance technicians, spares, ground support and test equipment, servicing carts, forklifts, loading vehicles, cargo pallets and a team of technical specialists who will be based in India during a three-year initial support period.
The Super Hercules is a highly integrated and sophisticated configuration primarily designed to support India’s special operations requirement.
Equipped with an Infrared Detection Set (IDS), the aircraft can perform precision low-level flying, airdrops and landing in blackout conditions.
But in absence of defence agreements such as the CISMOA, the C-130Js will be without some of the critical communication equipment that is fitted on the American aircraft.
The USAF, which is executing the government-to- government deal, had taken possession of the first C-130J at a ceremony at Marietta near Atlanta on 16th Dec last year and handed it over to the IAF the same day.
The IAF along with Lockheed Martin has modernised the home base of the C-130Js and created infrastructure for housing 12 such aircraft there along with creating servicing and operations facilities for the aircraft.
The company has also reinvested over USD 260 million into Indian defence sector under the offsets clause which mandates investment of at least 30 per cent of the worth of deals over Rs 300 crore in Indian defence companies.
Referring to the growing defence relationship between the two countries as a key component of the US-India strategic partnership, the US ambassador said, “The sale of six C-130J aircraft strengthens our bilateral military relationship and enhances joint regional security efforts between our two democracies.”
Roemer also mentioned that the US President Barack Obama also, while addressing the Parliament during his India visit, referred the two countries as “two global leaders”.
“The growing capabilities of the Indian military are a testament to his (Barack Obama) vision of India’s expanding role as a global leader,” Roemer added.