New Delhi: India is on the verge of losing the last available C-17 heavy transport aircraft that it lobbied hard to procure due to red tape. There is also a possibility of another country snagging the much valued lifter because of India’s delays.
The Indian Air Force has been keen to add to its current fleet of 10 C-17 Globemaster aircraft that have taken part in rescue and relief missions, besides carrying out operational missions across the country.
The IAF had cleared a proposal in 2015 to buy three more heavy lifters at a cost of Rs 8,100 crore but the long running procurement process meant that its manufacturer, Boeing, ran out of aircraft to sell. The C-17 production line has been shut down and only one aircraft was left for offer to India.
While the Indian side made efforts at the highest levels to procure the last available C-17 in the world – requesting Washington to block sales request from other countries interested in the aircraft – the bureaucratic processes are not yet complete.
Officials told ThePrint that Washington could rescind the offer due to repeated delays by the defence ministry to send the formal ‘Letter of Acceptance’ (LOA). An LOA is part of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route that India and the US follow for direct government-to-government sales.
Sources said that while the Indian side had until October to respond to the LOA, an extension was requested from Washington to extend the date until November. Now, a further extension has been sought until next year and that could derail the procurement process further.
Delays and extensions have remained a norm for most Indian defence procurements over the years and there have been several instances when equipment was finally bought after more than five years’ delay and at a higher cost.
In 2011, India had bought 10 such aircraft at a cost of $4.7 billion. The contract also had a follow-on clause to procure six more aircraft. However, with limited resources available, the IAF had asked for an additional three, impressed by its abilities, especially in rescue and relief missions in India and the neighbourhood.