The biggest Indo-US defence deal in the pipeline, the $4.1-billion for 10 C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft, could get even bigger. India may well order another six C-17s after the first 10.
The impending final contract for 10 C-17s is in tune with India's aim to have swift power projection capabilities, with the region spanning from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait being seen as the country's ''primary area of geo-strategic interest''.
The gigantic C-17s, after all, are capable of carrying a payload of 164,900 pounds after taking off from a mere 7,000-feet airstrip. These four-engine aircraft, manufactured by Boeing, can transport tanks and combat-ready troops over 2,400 nautical miles. ''After we have evaluated the performance of the 10 C-17s, we will take a decision on whether to order another six,'' IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik told TOI on Monday.
This came shortly after Barack Obama, while addressing the media with Manmohan Singh, held, ''Today, I am pleased to welcome India's preliminary agreement to purchase 10 C-17 cargo planes, which will enhance Indian capabilities and support 22,000 jobs back in US.''
Incidentally, the major chunk of security paraphernalia, including armour-plated cars and helicopters, accompanying Barack Obama has come to India on-board C-17s. ACM Naik, on his part, said the C-17s would significantly augment India's ability to move troops and combat systems, as also humanitarian aid and disaster relief, over large distances.
At present, IAF has just a dozen Russian-origin IL-76 'Gajraj' aircraft, with its medium-lift fleet comprising 104 Russian AN-32 aircraft. ''C-17s have short-landing capabilities, which will be crucial in the future,'' he said.
The rugged C-17s can even land at small forward airbases on semi-prepared runways, which will be crucial for India to counter China's massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, which includes new airfields in Tibet.
The contract for 10 C-17s, with all its final costs, offsets, training packages and the like, is ''close'' to being inked now. As earlier reported by TOI, India is buying the Globemasters under US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme in a direct government-to-government deal. Rubbishing criticism that India should have floated a global tender for such a big contract, ACM Naik said, ''We did a comprehensive evaluation of all such available aircraft in the world. The C-17s best met our requirements.''
Along with the C-17s, India wants five spare engines, 10 AN/ALE counter-measure dispensing systems.