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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is taking decisive steps to modernize its transport fleet, with Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari confirming plans for replacing ageing aircraft like the AN-32 and IL-76.

Chaudhari highlighted the crucial role of modern transport aircraft in contemporary warfare, stating, “We are looking at replacing our AN-32 and IL-76 fleets promptly.” The AN-32, a mainstay for decades, has served its purpose, but its limitations in payload capacity and range restrict the IAF’s operational flexibility. Similarly, the IL-76, approaching 40 years of service, requires a capable successor.

The IAF has already taken significant strides in upgrading its transport fleet, inducting C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. These heavy-lift giants have demonstrably boosted the IAF’s ability to conduct long-range strategic airlifts and deliver crucial supplies and troops across vast distances. Chaudhari aptly described their impact, stating they have “leverage(d) our non-kinetic capabilities as an effective instrument of statecraft.”

With the C-295MW aircraft already in the pipeline, the IAF is further strengthening its tactical airlift capabilities. This medium-lift aircraft, being manufactured in India under a strategic partnership with Airbus, will enhance troop and equipment movement within the country, particularly to remote areas. This improved connectivity will play a vital role in maintaining internal security and responding to emergencies.

The IAF’s ambitious Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) program seeks to procure up to 80 domestically built aircraft, replacing the ageing AN-32s. While the program received proposals from Airbus, Embraer, and Lockheed Martin, the IAF might consider acquiring additional C-295s due to their established local production and proven capabilities.

While choosing the right MTA is crucial, the larger vision extends beyond mere procurement. The MTA program aims to foster self-reliance in the Indian aerospace industry, creating high-skilled jobs and propelling technological advancements. Additionally, the Air Force is actively exploring options for upgrading its existing IL-76 fleet, ensuring these vital assets remain operational until their eventual replacement before 2035.

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