The Indian Air Force (IAF) has taken delivery of its first brand-new C295 medium transport aircraft from Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) in Seville, Spain, signalling a new phase of modernisation of its transport aircraft fleet.
The first C295 in ‘fly-away’ condition (fully outfitted and ready to take to the air) was officially handed over to Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, who called it “a momentous occasion”. The aircraft will be formally inducted into the IAF later this month.
IAF has 56 C295s on order for a cost of INR 21,935 crore. However, additional orders for the type are likely from other sections of the armed and paramilitary forces for the transport type.
The new C295 will replace IAF’s ageing Hawker Siddeley HS 748 ‘Avro’ transport aircraft, which were inducted into service in the sixties and manufactured under license in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The C295 can carry up to 71 troops or 50 paratroopers and can also be used to airdrop cargo and medical evacuation. Its ability to take off and land from short and unpaved runways will be an asset for the IAF, which can use the type on short and unpaved airfields in India’s border areas.
It presently operates a large fleet of transport aircraft comprised of the Dornier Do-228, followed by the larger HS-748 and Antonov AN-32s ( all inducted in the eighties).
The state-of-the-art Lockheed Martin C-130J ‘Super Hercules entered service in 2011. IAF also operates large four-engine strategic Heavylift aircraft in the Russian Ilyushin IL-76 and American Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. It is now in the process of identifying a replacement for its AN-32 fleet, whose induction began in 1984. These aircraft have been modernised to the improved AN-32 RE standard under a programme which began in 2009.
IAF is now looking to acquire up to 80 new Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) in the 18-30 tonne class. Amongst the contenders are Embraer of Brazil, which has proposed the C-390 Millenium new generation transport aircraft and US firm Lockheed Martin, which is offering the Super Hercules.
The C-390, powered by two turbofan engines, can carry 26 tonne of cargo compared to the Super Hercules, which is powered by four turboprop engines and can carry a payload of 20 tonne. The C295 and the new MTA will be vital for the IAF’s cargo and troop transport missions.
C295 Programme On Schedule
The C295 has been delivered with an indigenous Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, which Bharat Electronics Limited and Bharat Dynamics Limited have provided.
“It was only two years ago that we signed this contract with India, the largest order in the history of the C295,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus’ Head of Military Air Systems. The new aircraft is the first of 16 C295s to be assembled at ADS in Seville, Spain. The European defence contractor will deliver the second aircraft in May 2024. The remaining 14 aircraft will be delivered at one aircraft per month until August 2025. Including the IAF order, ADS has received 283 orders from 41 operators for C295.
Make in India
The C295 will be manufactured and assembled in India under license from ADS by Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL). Forty of the remaining C295s of the IAF order will be produced at a Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Vadodara.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility, the first such facility in the private sector, in October 2022.
The contract by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) with ADS in September 2021 for 56 C-295 transport aircraft has progressed well. Under the terms, the first 16aircraft were to be delivered in ‘fly-away’ condition from Spain within 48 months, and the remaining 40 aircraft were to be manufactured in India by the industry consortium led by TASL within ten years of contract signature.
As things stand presently, the Vadodara FAL is expected to be operational by November 2024, and Airbus is already shipping parts to this facility. The production of components has already begun in the Main Constituent Assembly facility in Hyderabad. Airbus must also discharge its offset obligations by directly purchasing eligible products and services from Indian Offset Partners. As per Airbus, the first, C295 made in India, is slated to roll out from the Vadodara FAL in September 2026, and the final and 40th aircraft is planned to be delivered to the IAF by August 2031.
The programme is expected to generate 42.5 lakh man-hours of work within the Indian A&D sector. It is expected to provide employment for 600 highly skilled jobs directly, create over 3,000 indirect jobs, and generate 3,000 medium-skill employment opportunities. The Tata Consortium has identified over 125 in-country Aerospace & Defence Micro, Small & Medium SEnterprises (MSME) suppliers across seven States. Manufacture of over 13,400 detail parts, 4,600 sub-assemblies and all seven major component assemblies of the C295 will be undertaken in India, along with tools, jigs and testers.
The C295 is expected to remain in service for at least 40 years, and as a result, before deliveries of all 56 aircraft are completed, Airbus and the Tata industrial consortium will set up ‘D’ Level MRO facilities in India. This will negate the need for IAF to send its aircraft back to Spain for major overhaul, resulting in significant foreign exchange savings and an opportunity for the MRO facility to emerge as a regional hub for C295 maintenance.