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The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) hunt for a new Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) has taken a turn, with initial estimates suggesting the Embraer C-390 Millennium might hold a cost advantage over its primary competitor, the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules.

According to sources, Embraer’s proposal includes the C-390 aircraft along with a Technology Transfer (ToT) package for local manufacturing, with a unit cost estimated between $140-160 million. This price range appears slightly lower than what the IAF might expect for the C-130J Hercules.

The C-130J has a proven track record with the IAF. The force procured six Hercules in 2012 through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal for $1.05 billion for the entire package. However, the average international cost for the C-130J currently falls within the $130-$167 million per unit range.

The third contender, Airbus A400M, sits in a different category due to its higher payload capacity of 37 tonnes. This larger size translates to a steeper price tag, with an average unit cost ranging from $220-240 million.

The IAF is yet to release a Request for Proposal (RFP) with detailed unit costs based on the final procurement numbers. While the Embraer offer seems financially attractive, the IAF will also need to assess the C-390’s capabilities against its operational requirements.

The C-390 boasts a stronger main structure, allowing it to transport heavier cargo (up to 26,000 kg) compared to the C-130J’s 20,227 kg limit. This enhanced capacity could be a factor for the IAF.

The chosen aircraft will be locally manufactured in India, potentially leading to additional upfront investment costs. However, this approach fosters self-reliance and long-term economic benefits.

The initial price estimates position the Embraer C-390 as a strong contender. However, the IAF will make its decision based on a comprehensive evaluation, considering factors like unit cost, operational capabilities, and long-term benefits associated with local manufacturing. This competition promises to be a close race between the C-390 and the C-130J, with the winner ultimately determined by the IAF’s strategic priorities.

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