The Defence Ministry will sign a $2.5-billion deal with Airbus in the next few months for the purchase of 56 C-295 transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
The long pending deal for the twin turboprop transport aircraft will bring much-needed relief not only for European aerospace giant Airbus, which has seen its campaigns for lucrative defence contracts in India fail over the last few years, but also for the Indian Air Force and the domestic defence industry.
For the Indian Air Force, C295s will come as replacements for its ageing Avro HS748 transport aircraft. The first of the now vintage aircraft flew with the Indian Air Force for the first time in the early 1960s. Around 50 of these, licence-produced in India by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, are currently in service.
“The Indian air force has a current active fleet of 60 Rolls-Royce Dart-engined HS 748s, aged between 35 and 58 years,” aviation news website FlightGlobal said in 2019, citing Cirium, a provider of travel industry data and analytics.
The C295 is a tactical transport aircraft capable of lifting 6 tonnes — Airbus says it can carry five cargo pallets or 71 troops or 50 paratroopers.
The aircraft can land on and take off from short, unprepared airstrips not accessible to heavier transport aircraft, a feature which makes it useful for operations from Advanced Landing Grounds along India’s China frontier.
The C295 is capable of operating “from short (no longer than 670 m/2,200 ft), soft and rough (CBR 2) unprepared airstrips,” Airbus says.
Of the 56 C295s to be ordered, the first 16 will be built by Airbus Defence & Space at its facility in Seville in the southern part of Spain.
The remaining 40 aircraft will be built in India under a joint venture with the Tata Group, which has partnered with Airbus for this deal.
The participation of an Indian company in the deal will come as a major relief for the domestic aerospace industry, experts have said.
“The case [C295 deal] is first of its kind which envisages participation of private companies and would prove to be a boost for our defence industry,” the Ministry of Defence said in its year-end review for 2020.
The number of C295s to be produced in India could go up in the future as the Indian Cost Guard, which plans to use it as a multi-mission maritime aircraft, has projected a requirement of six. While the Coast Guard’s requirement could go up a total of 19 in the near future, more numbers will be added if the Indian Air Force decides to replace its fleet of An-32 transport aircraft with C295s.
In fact, Dirk Hoke, the Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Defence & Space, recently told aviation news website FlightGlobal that the requirement for the C295 in India could eventually grow to “at least 150 and beyond”.
Replacing the An-32s with C295 will make sense because the IAF will already have the aircraft in the fleet. Induction of the aircraft to replace another type in its aircraft mix will make logistics of spares easier — IAF faces daunting logistics challenges due to the staggering diversity in its fleet.
The replacement of IAF’s An-32s with C295s will also make economic sense as the economics of scale will kick in, not only for the production of the aircraft in India but also for future upgrades of the aircraft.
“The C-295 aircraft would also be the natural replacement for AN-32s which too would be getting phased out soon,” Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd) has been quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying.