Have you ever wondered how the United States is a global superpower or the former Soviet Union? Because they have or had the ability to project their firepower anywhere on the globe. Be it the blue water navy or outreach of their Air force. On the Naval front, United States was focused on Aircraft carriers and USSR on Nuclear Submarines. On Airpower both were somewhat equally capable. One of the important qualities of projection of power is the deployment of assets, logistics, reinforcement of arms, ammunition, etc.

We know, how the United States projects its power through its excellent logistics and most of the credit goes to USAF transport capabilities, it operates the most number of military transport aircrafts in the world. Transport aircraft are capable of carrying troops, deploying artillery, supplying fuel, food, etc. Not all nations in the world can manufacture a transport aircraft by themselves. So, transport aircraft defines the level of development of aeronautical technologies of a country. Since the paradigm of the balance of power is changing with the rise of China. Which is increasingly competing with the USA, be it on geopolitics, military, or even on technology. So even China is aware of the fact that to develop their military on par or greater than the United States. as we know, now that the transport capabilities are an important factor in the game of power projection, what is China’s response, the answer is Xian-Y20 aircraft – simply nicknamed ‘Chubby Girl’. But what’s the big deal about it.

Considering China’s geography, it is a large country and it requires an aircraft capable of reaching its corners be it western Xinjiang or the Southern part of Tibet for deploying military as well as civilian assets. Xian-Y20 is a strategic airlifter, it was introduced around 2016, so it is Modern equipped with the latest electronics, and it can carry a payload of 55 tons up to 7500 km range [1]. In terms of specifications Xian-Y20 somewhere fits in between, Ilyushin Il-76 and Boeing C-17 Globe master, both of which are operated by the Indian Air force.  Now the Ilyushin Il-76 was introduced in the Soviet Union way back in 1974 [2], it can carry 48 tons of load up to a range of 4400 km [3], although new versions of this aircraft are being made in Russia, the latest being Il-76MD-90A [4]. The Il-76MD-90A will be somewhat comparable to Xian-Y20, but the Il-76s in the Indian air force is the old versions. Il-76 plays a critical role in Indian strategic circles because on this aircraft only we have A-50 AEW based aircraft and Il-78 Air Refueling Tanker Aircraft. This is what even China also thinking to develop AEW and Refueling Tanker based on Xian – Y20 [5]. But our concern is the availability of Il-76 and Il-78 aircraft at any given time is not the intended 70%. This is due to engine serviceability issues, spares, and even poor maintenance programs [6]. Now coming to Boeing C-17 Globe master, it is good in almost all departments in its category even better than Xian-Y20. India operates around 11 C-17s which is the second most number after the USA [7], This aircraft was introduced in 1995 in the USAF and there are around 222 aircrafts in Service with them [7]. It can carry a payload of 77 tons up to 4444 km range [8] it is also capable of aerial refueling, But the production of C-17 aircraft has been stopped with the last one delivered to the Indian Air Force [9]. This is what makes Xian-Y20 standout from its comparable competitors being Il-76 and C-17.  It is somewhat comparable or better than Il-76 and in production compared to C-17.

But Why India should be Envy about it. Let’s look at the upcoming indigenous aircrafts by India, there are a couple of important projects underway but at its early development stages, namely Medium lift Helicopter (MLH), Twin-Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF), Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), and many reconnaissance and Combat drones [10]. But we are not planning any Transport capable aircraft, either Turboprop or Turbofan. So, don’t we need these machines, of course, YES, we need and we have placed orders for Airbus C295 to replace the ageing Antonov An-32s [11]. But as I said earlier, ‘Not all nations in the world can manufacture a transport aircraft by themselves. If we look at the Indigenous Fighter aircraft HAL Tejas, we know the time taken to complete the project and the difficulties faced; still, we rely on American GE F404 engines, where engines are considered the heart of any Flying Machine. If we undertake a project to develop an aircraft, there are a number of components, wings, airframes, landing gears, numerous sub-systems, software’s etc. which are different for each and every category of aircrafts such as fighter jets, helicopters, wide-body, narrow-body, subsonic, supersonic, etc. let alone engines. So, we take up a project to build a Transport aircraft, and then the experience will be unique.

China is planning to produce around 1000 Y-20s [12], which will give it a good outreach, and also if deployed on overseas bases it can play the global game of geopolitics. Also, Xian Y-20 is at the forefront of the battle against the COVID crisis within China and also played an important part in vaccine diplomacy by delivering Chinese Vaccines around Southeast Asia [13] [14]. So, this should make India Envy, we do have C-17 doing most of these jobs, but what if we need more C-17s? Since C-17 production is stopped, can we go for Il-76 new improvised versions? Then how about serviceability and maintenance?  So, indigenous transport aircraft becomes paramount.

We can go by the same route as we did for the development of Tejas even for manufacturing a transport plane, we can rely on Engines from foreign OEM and can indigenously develop other components, fuselage, wings, etc. For Example, even China developed the Xian Y-20 with the same strategy, its Engines are the same ones that are in Il-76, but China is developing an indigenous ws-20 engine that will replace the present Soloviev D30 engines and will give planned 66 tons capacity [15].

So, if India initiates a program to develop a transport aircraft there will be a good amount of R&D experience, technical know-how, manufacturing, Assembly lines, etc. and also a lot of local jobs would be generated.

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Article by TDINESH BEHARA ,  cannot be republished Partially or Full without consent from Writer or