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IAF considers replacing AN-32 with C-295 to modernise fleet

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is considering the possibility of replacing its Antonov-32 (AN-32) planes with the C-295s to modernise its transport fleet when the Soviet-origin workhorse comes up for retirement sometime after 2030, senior officials familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The C-295 medium transport aircraft, which will be manufactured in India jointly by Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and European firm Airbus Defence and Space, comes as a replacement for the IAF’s fleet of ageing Avro-748 planes that entered service in the early 1960s.

There’s a growing consensus within the air force on the C-295s being the right fit to replace the AN-32s, said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named.

The IAF currently operates a fleet of more than 90 AN-32s that play a critical role in supporting forward deployed troops along the country’s frontiers including Ladakh and the Northeast.

“The C-295 is capable of carrying out the roles assigned to AN-32s, and can be a good replacement when the time comes. While the air force is not in a rush to zero in on a replacement for AN-32s as their phasing out will begin only after 2030, the C-295 fits the bill,” said a second official, who also asked not to be named.

India and Ukraine had inked a $400-million deal in 2009 to modernise the AN-32 fleet.

Some of them were upgraded in Ukraine a decade ago to improve avionics and increase engine lifespan, while several others are being upgraded at an IAF repair facility in Kanpur.

The Avro replacement project was in the works for more than a decade. The defence acquisition council — India’s apex defence procurement body — gave its acceptance of necessity (AoN) in 2012 to replace the Avro planes with 56 new aircraft. Under India’s defence procurement rules, an AoN by the council is the first step towards buying military hardware.

In a shot in the arm for the government’s Make in India initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on October 30, laid the foundation stone for a manufacturing facility being set up by the Tata-Airbus consortium at Vadodara in Gujarat for the C-295s, expected to replace the Avro aircraft.

The event was the result of a 21,935-crore contract the defence ministry signed with Airbus Defence and Space last year for 56 C-295 aircraft. TASL is jointly executing the contract, which is being seen as a boost to the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat (self reliant India) campaign.

The development was seen as significant as a military aircraft will be manufactured in India by a private consortium for the first time.

“By the time the AN-32s come up for replacement, the last of the C-295s would have been delivered to the IAF as Avro replacement. Going in for C-295s as a substitute for AN-32 will ensure continuity in production,” the second official added.

As part of the contract, 16 C-295 aircraft will be delivered by Airbus in flyaway condition from Spain, and the remaining 40 will be manufactured in India. The 16 flyaway aircraft are scheduled to be delivered between September 2023 and August 2025, while the first Made in India C-295 is projected to roll out of the new facility in September 2026, with the remaining estimated to be ready by August 2031.

The C-295 is more than capable of replacing the AN-32 when the air force starts phasing out the latter in a decade, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies. “Continued production of C-295s in India will ensure timely deliveries, and a higher indigenous content. Advance planning ensures preparedness. The AN-32 is ageing and will ultimately require replacement,” Chopra added.

The C-295 can carry up to nine tonnes of payload or 71 personnel (or 45 paratroopers) and has a maximum speed of 480 kmph. It can also operate from short or unprepared airstrips, has a rear ramp for para dropping troops and cargo, and will strengthen the logistic capabilities of IAF.

It exceeds the performance of the Avro and AN-32 transport planes, and is extremely fuel efficient, IAF vice chief Air Marshal Sandeep Singh had said in October.

Apart from the 56 planes already ordered, the C-295 facility at Vadodara will be capable of meeting additional requirements for the air force and also cater to export orders, officials said.

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