Indian Air Force C-130J aircraft takes off after performing an assault landing during the Iron Fist 2013 exercise in February. India plans to purchase six more aircraft, bringing the total inventory to 12. (Manan Vatsyayana / Getty Images)
NEW DELHI — Top brass in the Indian Army and Air Force expressed shock over the Defence Ministry’s decision to award a $1 billion repeat contract on Dec. 27 for six additional C-130J Hercules transport aircraft, saying the military has many more pressing purchases to tackle.
“Our top priority is [to] have fighters as soon as possible, but we are surprised by the MoD move on why the government is not signing the $12 billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft [contract with Dassault of France] and instead is buying transport aircraft for us,” a senior Air Force official said.
An Army official pointed out that the service has no combat-worthy artillery systems and that it was hoping the MoD would finalize a deal for 145 ultra-light howitzers from the US. He added that more than $40 billion in Army procurement is in the pipeline but no significant purchased are being made.
The Air Force official pointed out, however, that the service does need the troop-lift capacity the new aircraft will provide, especially for combat and logistics in view of the threat perceptions on the Sino-Indian border.
The military relies mainly on An-32 aircraft for troop lift and other logistical assignments. The Air Force had already ordered six Lockheed Martin C-130Js, and the new order would bring the total inventory to 12.
An MoD source said the Indian government had cleared the deal, ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington in September.
The Indian Air Force bought six C-130J transport aircraft in a $962 million deal in 2007. The Indian Air Force also proposes to buy 10 Boeing C-17 transport aircraft worth over $4.5 billion to add to its transport fleet of Russian-made IL-76 and An-32 aircraft.
India has signed contracts worth over $10 billion since 2002 after Washington lifted sanctions against India. Over $4 billion worth of contracts are awaiting inking, likely to take place within the next three to six months, sources said. These include purchase of 22 Apache attack helicopters, 15 Chinook heavy-lift choppers, four P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, all made by Boeing, and 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers guns.