Boeing’s uncertainties create C-17 deadline for IAF - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 1 August 2012

Boeing’s uncertainties create C-17 deadline for IAF

Action at Boeing's Long Beach plant at the "main join" ceremony of the C-17. The IAF officer is Air Cmde Sanjay Nimesh, the Air Advisor to the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. The gent in the photo at the bottom is Dana Rohrabacher

By Ajai Shukla
Long Beach, California
Business Standard, 2nd Aug 12

In a ceremony at Boeing’s Long Beach factory in California, which was enlivened by an anti-Pakistan tirade by local Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the first of ten C-17 Globemaster III airlifters ordered by the Indian Air Force (IAF) moved a step closer towards completion.

Indian diplomats and air force officers, Boeing officials and local politicians participated in the so-called “major join” ceremony, driving in ceremonial rivets to conjoin the C-17’s wings and body. Now India’s first C-17 has actually begun to look like an aircraft.

“Today, we are practically riveting together the relationship between the United States and India,” proclaimed India’s Consul General in San Francisco, N Parthasarathi, who had been invited to the ceremony.

Even more theatrical was local Congressman, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, an anti-Pakistan hawk, who thundered that the C-17 was a tool that would help “most important ally” India “defeat the forces of evil”, specifically “radical Islam and a China that would seem to be an adversary rather than a friend.”

[Earlier this year, Rohrabacher had sponsored a bill in the US Congress calling for the right to self-determination in Pakistan’s restive province of Baluchistan.]

For Rohrabacher, the big issue here is local employment, not Pakistan. The C-17 production line, which creates some 5000 jobs at Long Beach (and another 17,000 elsewhere in the US), will shut down by end-2014 after building India’s ten C-17s and the US Air Force’s last seven aircraft.

This has forced a deadline on the IAF, which plans to order at least six more C-17s, but only after evaluating its operational performance when it joins the IAF fleet next June. A top Boeing executive today told Business Standard that, unless additional international orders came in, Sept 2013 would be the cut-off date for the IAF to order additional aircraft. After that date, the process of shutting down the production line would begin.

“As of now, India would need to take a decision on additional C-17s by the third quarter of next year. There are other countries that are expressing interest in the C-17. If they place an order, India’s deadline would extend,” says Mark Kronenberg, Boeing’s International Business Development chief.

The IAF’s Rs 22,800 crore ($4.12 billion) purchase of ten C-17s will make it the largest operator of C-17s outside the US. The aircraft will allow the army to swiftly reinforce threatened sectors along the remote, Himalayan, northern border. It can fly 74 tonnes of stores over 4,500 kilometres, landing on a one-kilometre-long stretch of hard, unpaved mud.

The C-17 can also deliver paratroopers onto an objective. Since its full load of 134 fully equipped paratroopers weighs less than 10 tonnes, the aircraft’s range increases to over 10,000 kilometres. A company of paratroopers can be delivered without refuelling over London, or the Australian city of Darwin.

The C-17 will replace the obsolescent Russian IL-76 airlifter, which has served the IAF since the early 1980s but is now unreliable. The IAF is impressed with the C-17’s abilities, especially after 20th June 2010. During trials in Ladakh, in the oxygen-thin air of that hot summer day, the IL-76 was unable to land even without a payload. The C-17, to the IAF’s delight, landed and took off with 30 tonnes on board.

The C-17 was procured through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme, with New Delhi and Washington signing the contract in Jun 2011. Under this, Boeing will deliver the first five C-17s next year, with another five following in 2014. The IAF is raising a new unit --- 81 Squadron, based in Hindan, outside Delhi --- for the C-17, a decision that some criticise as lacking a sense of history.

“There is already an illustrious former squadron --- 19 Squadron --- that was number-plated (retired) twenty years ago. Why don’t they re-raise 19 Squadron, so that its history is passed on and kept alive? In Oct 1962, on the eve of the China war, 19 Squadron airlifted light tanks to Ladakh, which fought gallantly to defend Chushul. In the 1980s, 19 squadron flew over 20,000 sorties to support the Indian army in Sri Lanka,” points out IAF historian, Pushpindar Singh.

The IAF is readying to receive the C-17 with ten flight crews --- each consisting of two pilots and a loadmaster --- which are currently being trained at a US Air Force base in Altus, Oklahoma.

A novelty in India’s C-17 purchase is a “performance based logistics” contract that the IAF has signed with Boeing. This binds Boeing to ensure that some 85% of the C-17 fleet is always available and ready for operations. Boeing will position spares and maintenance personnel for this, drawing not just on depots in the US, but on a “virtual fleet” that includes the six other forces that operate the C-17.

(Disclosure: the correspondent was invited to Long Beach as a guest of The Boeing Company)


  1. Congratulations on a balanced and informative article.

    Also bravo for the disclosure.

    Dare I say but you may be setting a precedent of sorts for defence journos.

    All the best.


  2. @Ajai sir

    a few questions

    1. How does Boeing churn out planes so fast, is it b'coz they use totally mechanized production or b'coz they employ '000 (much more than HAL)?

    2. Does Boeing use laser welding tech to churn out aircrafts at faster rate? If yes cant the HAL do the same?

    3. You say C17 production line is to shut by 2014 end, so what happens to spare parts needed or servicing after that?

    4. What type of plane after C17?

    5. Some reports say India will operate the largest no. of C17 outside USA, that means close or over 20, what to do you think?

    I sincerely hope to get answers


    Joydeep Ghosh

  3. Col. Shukla, this is perhaps the most balanced article I have perused in the last one week of all the articles scripted by your compadres who happen to be traveling around the U.S touring Boeing's facilities on invitation from the former.

    Just saw this snippet in the Aviation Week a couple of days back and thought you might have an opportunity to ask your Boeing counterparts for full disclosure on the exact nature of the audit that has been ordered by the Pentagon's Inspector General's office. According to the Pentagon the IG started an audit in June to evaluate the reliability and performance parameters of the platform that will form the basis for the U.S Navy's decision to approve full rate production ( or not).
    As the platforms only export customer, India needs to make sure that it is in the loop as far as this issue is concerned.


  4. I never imagined Dana Rohrabacher (of the Khalistan resolutions in US Congress fame in the 80s and 90s) posing for a photo for Broadsword. It's almost like having Parvez Musharraf in attendance.

  5. I reiterate that C-17 is an excellent purchase. India shall purchase it maximum, limited to its own requirements and funds.

  6. I apologize for being more specific in my earlier post in mentioning that the hardware I was referring to was the P-8A not the C-17. I reiterate that the Pentagon's IG's office has launched an audit to assess whether the Boeing P-8A platform meets the performance and reliability standards in the contract before the Pentagon gives its approval for full scale production of the P-8s.


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