'Skylords' to lord over Indian skies

The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Monday inducted its strategic heavy-lift helicopter C-17 Globemaster-III, which in the words of IAF chief N A K Browne would be a “game-changer” for the country.

Defence Minister A K Antony inducted the C-17 in the newly-created 81 Squadron, which has been christened “Skylords”. “This will add a new dimension to our strategic airlift capability,” said Group Captain B S Reddy, commanding officer of the 81 Squadron.

India has purchased 10 of these US-origin aircraft, at a costs of $4.1 billion.
While the first three have arrived at the air station here on the outskirts of Delhi, two more are expected later this year. The remaining five will come next year. The new squadron's induction takes place days after IAF's C-130J Super Hercules — from 77 Squadron at Hindon — landed at the Daulat Beig Oldie (DBO) airstrip in eastern Ladakh, which is within 10 km from India's de-facto border with China. “The C-17 too can land at DBO. It only needs a 3.500-foot airstrip. We plan to take it to Ladakah, the north-east and Andamans,” said Browne. The C-17, in fact, had made its maiden trip to the Andamans in July, when it carried an infantry battalion.

A spokesperson of Boeing, which manufactures the C-17, told Deccan Herald that the aircraft is capable of taking off on a critical field length of as short as 2,400 feet, depending on the load, altitude and other factors.

The aircraft can carry a maximum load of 77.5 tonnes, which includes T-72 or T-90 tanks, combat vehicles, artillery guns and more than 100 fully-armed infantry soldiers.

Currently, IAF provides strategic lift using its 14 IL-76 aircraft flown by the 44 Squadron and 25 Squadron.

Minutes after inducting the C-17 at the air station here, Antony said India was strengthening its capability in improving infrastructure in areas bordering China, and the initiatives have received a fresh momentum in the last few years.

Asked about the recent Chinese intrusions, Antony said since the Sino-Indian boundary is uncertain, both sides might go into disputed areas, which they perceived as their own. This may lead to an “unfortunate face-off” between the two armies.
The defence minister said New Delhi and Beijing were negotiating a “more practical and effective” mechanism to maintain peace along the border.

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