SOURCE: JOYDEEP GHOSH/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
IAF currently operates 11 C-17 Globemaster IIIs. In 2010 it ordered 10 of these behemoths under a Very Heavy Lift Aircraft tender. In 2011, the IAF and Boeing agreed on terms for the order of 10 C-17 Globemaster IIIs under a US$ 4.1 billion deal, with an option to buy 6 more. However, some reports say IAF was duly informed by Boeing that the aircraft production line was slated to be closed soon, so if they wished to exercise an option to order 6 more aircraft, they needed to do it soon.
So, in 2012 or 2013 IAF reported firmed up plans to buy 5 more of these jets. But unfortunately, due to unfavorable economic conditions, the government didn’t give a go-ahead. So, when the government changed in 2014 the IAF hoped the deal will go through. But for unknown reasons, the new government sat on the proposal. Even after repeated requests by Boeing, the deal for 5 more jets couldn’t be taken forward. So ultimately after waiting endlessly for India to give orders for 5 more C-17 Globemaster IIIs, Boeing shut down the production line in 2015.
At that time there were still 10 readymade C-17 Globemaster IIIs present at the production facility. Boeing kept on egging for the contract for 5 jets that it hoped will come from India, but IAF couldn’t drive home the message to the government. So slowly the remaining jets were sold to other countries including Qatar (4), and Australia (2). Then somehow IAF firmed up the proposal for buying 3 of these jets, but even that proposal couldn’t go through due to lack of funds. Eventually, IAF was forced to buy the last remaining ‘White Tail’ delivered in 2019. This makes India the seconds largest operator of C-17 Globemaster IIIs in the world after the USA.
IAF really needs to add more numbers to heavy lift/strategic freighter numbers. Ordering more C-17 Globemaster IIIs could have been an answer, but its production has been closed since 2015, so it is not an option. Reopening the production line for India’s requirement of 25 C-17 Globemaster IIIs, considering the fact that the total requirement for strategic heavy lift freighters is 36; would have been a cost-prohibitive idea for Boeing.
At 78 tons of carrying capacity, the C-17 Globemaster IIIs can easily carry the 68-ton Arjun Mk1A tank as well as a 40-ton T 72 tank or a 43-ton T 90 tank. The IL-76 jets have more turnaround time than C-17 Globemaster IIIs, meaning the former requires more hours of servicing for every hour of flight than the latter. This means that C-17 Globemaster IIIs can be ready more quickly for the next flight. Also due to their efficient engines and other systems, the serviceability of C-17 Globemaster IIIs is as high as 75 to 80% as compared to around 50% for IL-76s. The French A400M could have been an option but at a paltry 37-ton capacity, it is basically a tactical freighter in the class of C130J-30 SH, no match to even the I-76 MD 90A let alone the C-17 Globemaster IIIs.
If IAF wants to buy more C-17 Globemaster IIIs, really the best option for India is that a private company like Tata or L&T or any other company with relevant expertise should join hands with Boeing to shift the C-17 Globemaster IIIs production line lock, stock, and barrel to India. Please remember that the number of spares currently available with Boeing for C-17 Globemaster IIIs is enough to build a couple of dozens of these jets in full, but it won’t be done as the spare parts required for the C-17 Globemaster IIIs flying across the world will be hampered.
Many may ask what is the benefit of shifting the C-17 Globemaster IIIs production line to India. Do remember that USAF currently operates 222 C-17 Globemaster IIIS out of which 158 are in active service and the rest in storage or reserve; is keen to add more numbers of these jets to increase its airlift capacity by bringing back some of the jets in storage or reserve back into active service. However, due to some reasons, if a sufficient number of these jets aren’t brought back into active service, USAF is looking at other options like bringing back some of the C5 Galaxy back from storage or reserve into active service. Though they can carry over 125 tons, a 1950s old design; how effective can these be is not known.
However, if even this option doesn’t work out, USAF is looking to procure a few dozen of the freighter versions of KC 46 midair refuel tankers or the freighter version of the iconic passenger liner 747 called 747-8Fs. However, when the freighter versions of KC 46 will be developed is not known or when the Boeing plant making the 747-8Fs will have its hands free after completing the pending orders for the freighters from cargo liners already at hand; to supply heavy lift freighters to USAF is not known. So, the best option is to shift the production line lock, stock, and barrel to India.
Already reports say Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. joint venture, that makes parts of C-130 J – 30 SH is planning to set up C-130 J -30 SH production in India. In that case, setting up a C-17 Globemaster III production line in India, won’t be a bad idea at all; it is very much worth a try. Setting up a C-17 Globemaster III production line in India, will not only generate jobs but also help India develop expertise in manufacturing large jets, irrespective of degree of knowledge gained or technology transferred.
In the production line to be set up in India, a total of around 150 to 175 C-17 Globemaster IIIs can or should be built. If the plan is formalized in the next 2 years, a production line can be set up by 2035. Out of these IAF will buy 25 to meet its requirement of 36 heavy-lift strategic freighters, taking into account that 17 IL-76s in service with IAF are retired by 2035. USAF will buy 50 and the rest can be exported to other countries, allowing India to earn valuable foreign exchange. Remember that when the last 10 C-17 Globemaster IIIs were in the Boeing production line, there was really a clamor about who gets to buy these jets.
So, it can be safely said that, if the C-17 Globemaster III production line is restarted in India by 2035, countries will be very much eager to buy them. Do note, the cost of production of these jets in India will be invariably lower than the cost of production in the USA, considering the fact that confirmed orders for 75 of these jets will already be there from the USAF and IAF. Let’s hope relevant people in both USA and India give this idea serious thought.
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