India plan for $3-bn Airbus cargo plane goes to cabinet for decision

Photo: European major Airbus C-295 aircraft for the India’s air force and coast guard.

By Ayaskant Das, Staff Writer

New Delhi: India’s $3.15-billion plan to buy 62 Airbus C-295 medium lift transport aircraft for its air force and coast guard is all set to go to the central cabinet for a decision, people familiar with the development said today.

The proposal to buy the C-295, which will be made in India for the Indian armed forces, will be taken up by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the new year.

The process for the purchase plan — 56 of the planes will go to the Indian Air Force and the rest six will go to the Indian Coast Guard — going to the CCS for the decision to sign the contract has been initiated already, the people said, asking not to be named as the information is not yet public.

The contract negotiations committee of the Ministry of Defence had in March concluded the talks with India’s Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), which has formed a joint venture with European major Airbus to execute the deal, for the purchase of the 62 twin-engine turboprop aircraft. The cost of the deal is expected to be Euro 2.8 billion ($3.15 billion).

Under the contract proposal, a total of 16 C-295 aircraft will be delivered by Airbus in a fly-away condition while the rest 46 will be produced at the TASL-Airbus joint facility, to be set up in Bengaluru, Karnataka, through a technology transfer.

The Defence Acquisition Council, headed by the defence minister, had in 2015 cleared the proposal for the purchase of 56 C-295 for the Indian Air Force, which would use it in medium cargo roles. The Indian Coast Guard proposal to buy six of these aircraft in a maritime patrol role got its clearance from the DAC in 2016.

In 2013, the IAF had floated a tender to procure 56 medium transport aircraft. Under the tender norms, 24 of these will be imported in kit form for local assembly and include 30 per cent indigenous content.

The level of indigenous content is then expected to double to 60 per cent for the remaining 22 platforms. The first locally made C-295 is to be delivered within 60 months of the contract signing.

The C-295 purchase programme is to replace IAF’s ageing fleet of Hawker Siddeley HS748 transport planes that have been in service for nearly five decades. The HS748 transport aircraft were manufactured in India by defence public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) through technology transfer from the United Kingdom‘s aircraft manufacturer Avro.

At present, the IAF operates around 50 HS748 transport aircraft, but these have been facing issues pertaining to ageing due to lack of upgrades and are on the verge of being phased out.

The C295 is a highly versatile tactical aircraft that can be used for different missions including for early warning systems, for mid-air refueling or for maritime patrolling and anti-submarine warfare. The Airbus website says that the company has delivered 173 C-295 aircraft till date, of which all, but two, are in operation around the world.

The C295 aircraft is also being considered as an effective replacement for IAF’s twin-engine turboprop military transport aircraft Antonov An-32, which have been in operation since 1984.

Nearly 100 An-32 platforms are in service with the IAF, but the fleet has been marred by a series of accidents as well as lack of timely upgrades due to non-availability of spares. The Soviet-era An-32 transport aircraft, now being manufactured in Ukraine, has been involved in at least 14 crashes in India in recent years.

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