A Lockheed C-130J-30 belonging to the Indian Air Force crashed Friday morning about 72 miles from Gwalior Airbase while on a routine flight, causing the death of the 5 IAF personnel on board. The Air Force it seems had no initial explanation regarding the cause crash of the aircraft whose flight to Gwalior had originated at Agra Airbase. A Court of Inquiry has been set up to help determine what may have caused the brand new ‘Super Hercules’ C-130J-30, one of six aircraft delivered brand new throughout 2011, to crash.
Following its induction into Indian Air Force service on February 5th 2011, the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 has earned notoriety by being involved in events of national significance, cementing both an endearing and enduring presence in the nation’s service, to a point where early reports of today’s accident actually caused widespread shock and bewilderment.
The six airframes received as part of a 2008 $1.1 Billion Foreign Military Sales contract involving the US Air Force and manufacturer Lockheed Martin saw the Indian Air Force receive the 6 C-130J-30 newly registered as KC-3801, KC-3802, KC-3803, KC-3804, KC-3805, KC-3806. These 15-foot stretched variants (designated -30) of the standard late 50’s C130 vintage Hercules fuselage represent the latest iteration of the type; employing a modern glass cockpit reducing the flight crew to 2, assisted by a load master and a combat system operator. In order to meet India’s military airlift requirement, the aircraft was not only to fill a gap between the cavernous Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Antonov An-32, but at the same time being the work horse of special operations forces. The aircraft with its natural pre-disposition for transporting 64 armed paratroopers or 92 assault troops or altogether 22 Tonnes of cargo secured additional flexibility thanks to the enhanced performance delivered by the 4 Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprop engines to which are attached the 6-blades ‘scimitar’ composite propellers, characteristic of the J models. Despite the lack of sensitive on board high precision navigation/communication systems (not made available through the FMS due to India’s non-adherence to the US-sponsored Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement CISMOA), the 6 aircraft were rumored to have received third-party supplied Global Positioning System (and Inertial Navigation System) as well as the low level night navigation & landing suite that can better exploit the aircraft in-flight refueling capabilities in special operations missions.
Flown by then-formed 77th ‘Veiled Vipers’ Squadron based at Hardon Airbase near New Delhi, the aircraft quickly established itself as the workhorse of rescue airlift operations particularly during the flash floods of Uttarakhand. But it took the April 2013 alleged attempt by neighboring China to lay claim on some remote mountainous located it appeared on Indian territory. At that junction, C-130J-30 made history by landing on the most elevated airstrip in the world at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). The capability to conduct military airlift operation at a 16614 feet (5065 meters) airfield convinced the whole world that India could in fact ferry sufficient amount of men and materiel in order to face any military contingency. This show of force greatly enhanced India military posture and national prestige, was only made possible by the C-130J-30. Some of these episodes so positively highlighted the C-130J-30 potential that, by December 2013, India had firmed up on its follow up order for six additional aircraft.
The tragic episode confronting a still nascent and highly promising program is not likely to derail India’s drive for deepening its experience operating the type. On a very short span of time, this aircraft has enriched the IAF experience by a significant margin. To date, the aircraft has sold around 300 units to 15 air arms world wide.