The Indian Air Force (IAF), which is looking to procure medium transport aircraft (MTA), is carrying out a comprehensive study to identify the current and future payload-carrying requirements of the force.

It has already issued a Request For Information (RFI) to global manufacturers for an aircraft with load-carrying capacity between 18 tons and 30 tons.

Significance of The Procurement

The 2020 stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh has changed the nature of airlift and support for the Army required in high-altitude areas.

There is a need to identify the current payload-carrying capacity. IAF is also in discussions with vendors. The study is ongoing and should take about six months to be completed.

This comes as several of the legacy transport fleets are in need of replacement.

The exact requirements of the MTA would be finalised based on the outcome of the study, the source stated.

The RFI for a MTA was issued in December 2022 and the deadline to respond was extended till March 31, 2023.

There are three responses to the RFI, officials confirmed:

Airbus A-400M
Lockheed Martin C-130, and
Embraer C-390

Among them, the A-400M has a maximum carrying capacity of 37 tons, the C-130 close to 20 tons, and the C-390 up to 26 tons.

The MTA could become a potential replacement for a part of the much-smaller AN-32s in service and could also replace the larger IL-76, which is also being looked into.

For instance, from the experiences of the stand-off, the Army is looking to procure a light tank weighing up to 25 tons for deployment in the mountains especially in eastern Ladakh.

So, the IAF needs a sizable number of aircraft to airlift them and the MTA with the requisite load capacity can cater to that, several officials noted.

There is a huge gap in carrying capacities at the moment with the current aircraft which needs to be adjusted, one of the officials said.

An earlier project to jointly co-develop and produce an MTA of 20 tons with Russia to replace the An-32s was scrapped a few years ago after initial design discussions.

The transport fleet of the IAF currently consists of over 100 AN-32s, Avros, IL-76 heavy transporters, IL-78 mid-air refuelling tankers from Russia, as well as 12 C-130J Super Hercules and 11 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift aircraft from the U.S.

Of these, the IL-76 has a capacity to lift 45-50 tons and the C-17 up to 70 tons.

In September 2021, the Defence Ministry signed a ₹21,935-crore contract with Airbus and Space S.A., Spain, for procurement of 56 C-295 MW transport aircraft to replace the Avro aircraft in service which is being executed in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. and a Final Assembly Line is being set up in Vadodara, Gujarat, as part of the deal.

The first C-295 aircraft is scheduled to be delivered to the IAF in September.

The C-295 has a capacity of nine tons and can carry up to 71 troops or 50 paratroopers. Part of the AN-32 fleet could be replaced with C-295s which are of a similar category, officials stated.

While the RFI did not specify the number of MTA required, vendors have been asked to provide “Rough Order of Magnitude [ROM] cost of aircraft and associated equipment” for a batch of 40, 60, and 80 aircraft.

Officials said the number required is being assessed and the study will specify it.