There has been no official request so far from the government to the armed forces to assist in the delivery and distribution of the vaccine

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is fully prepared to pitch in for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine to the farthest reaches of the country using its extensive fleet of transport aircraft, people familiar with developments said on Sunday.

Though there has been no official request so far from the government to the armed forces to assist in the delivery and distribution of the vaccine, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity that there are no doubts about the IAF’s capability to transport millions of doses across the country.

“There has been no formal request till now for the IAF to help in the transportation of a Covid-19 vaccine. But we do have a formidable fleet of transport aircraft and we can pitch in at short notice if required,” said one of the people.

“There are no doubts about the IAF’s capabilities to carry such supplies to all parts of the country,” the person added.

The IAF’s transport fleet includes eleven C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift aircraft, each of which can carry up to 75 tonnes of cargo, C-130 Hercules aircraft, which can carry up 19 tonnes, and workhorses such as the Il-76s and An-32s. The people cited above said, if required, smaller aircraft such as the Dorniers and even helicopters can be used to ferry the vaccines to remote areas with smaller airfields.

It is understood that the military has worked out modalities that will have to be put in place for transporting vaccines if there is a request from the government. This will primarily involve moving vaccines from the 28,000-unit cold storage network and ensuring the doses reach remote areas without losing their efficacy.

“The vaccines will be transported in special boxes and there will be no need to reconfigure the aircraft to carry them. It’s not as if the aircraft will have to be modified in any way,” the person cited above said.

The IAF recently demonstrated its heavy-lift capabilities by transporting thousands of troops and thousands of tonnes of fuel, food, supplies and equipment to the Ladakh sector, where the Indian Army is engaged in a dragging standoff with Chinese forces along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The IAF also has extensive experience of airlifting medical supplies and equipment during contingencies both within the country and in the neighbourhood. Even before the pandemic, IAF aircraft have ferried medicines and other essential supplies to neighbouring countries such as the Maldives. They have also transported currency notes during the demonetisation drive and electronic voting machines (EVMs) and other equipment during elections.