IAF Strategic Airlift Needs Capability Build Up To Take On PAALF
Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Special Forces
On 8 May 2018, PLAAF announced that Y-20, the biggest transport aircraft built in China till date,had conducted its first joint airdrop training for the country’s airborne troops.
In 2014 the PLA National Defence University had recommended the purchase of up to 400 Y-20s, after comparing the PLAAF’s needs and comparing the existing airlifter fleets of the United States and Russia..
In June 2016 as per Janes report up to 1,000 Y-20s were being requested by the Chinese military. The Chinese already operate around 22x IL76 D.
On 6 July 2016 the first serial Y-20 was handed over to the PLAAF in a ceremony and assigned to the 12th Regiment of the 4th Transport Division at Qionglai, Chengdu in Tibet. The HQ of Chinese Western Theatre Command is located at Chengdu.
This is the Theatre Command which is faced by Northern Command( 14 Corps), Western Command (36 Sector), Central Command (9[I]Brigade), Eastern Command, Eastern Air Command, Central Air Command and Western Air command of the Indian Armed Forces.
With the maximum take off weight of 220 tons, the Y-20 can carry a maximum payload of 66 tons to a range of 4500km. With 40 tons load it can travel 7800km and 10000km with around 150 paratoopers. The aircraft has maximum speed of 800km per hour.The high payload means it can carry the PLA’s heaviest tank, the 58-ton Type-99A2.
When fully fueled and carrying a payload of 51 tons it can fly for 5,200 kilometers, reaching everywhere in Europe and Asia, the US state of Alaska, Australia and North Africa. With its maximum payload, it has a range of 4500km enabling it to fly nonstop from Harbin in Heilongjiang province to Lhasa in the Tibet autonomous region.
A single refueling could double the operational radius of the Y-20. Without refueling, the Y-20 could support paratroop airdrops in all of Indo-China and the South China Sea. With a single out-bound and in-bound refueling, all of South East Asia [save New Guinea] would be within reach of round-trip airborne assault operations. A second refueling [that is, four in all] would bring Australia within reach of Chinese paratroopers.
Y20 seems to be a great basic platform also for tanker and early warning aircraft. Other possible variants may include a casualty evacuation cum aerial hospital and an AWAC. The chief designer of the Y-20, confirmed the aircraft could be spawned into several types of variants, with military experts expecting to see the oil tanker in 2019. Currently the Y-20 is using Russian engines which it plans to replace with domestically made WS-20 engines in 2019.The Y-20 has now entered the formal mass production stage, and intensive regular training with the military is going according to plan.
The aircraft is comparable with Boeing C17 of USA and IL76 MD90A of Russia.Claimed to be primarily designed and developed in China certain parts were developed by the Ukrainian Antonov Design Bureau. American sources claim significant portions of American intellectual property were stolen in the development of the aircraft, allegedly through “cyber crimes” executed by PLA coordinated with an unnamed Chinese expat working in the Canadian aerospace industry.
The project was officially launched in 2006. The Y-20 uses components made of composite materials produced in China, whereas in the past they had to be imported. The Y-20’s cabin incorporates flame-retardant composites.The Y-20 is the first cargo aircraft to use 3D printing technology to speed up its development and to lower its manufacturing cost.
Cargo is loaded through a large aft ramp that accommodates rolling stock. The Y-20 incorporates a rear cargo-loading assembly and heavy-duty retractable landing gear, consists of three rows, with a pair of wheels for each row, totaling six wheels for each side. The shortest take-off distance of Y-20 is 600 to 700 meters. It was reported that the Y-20 started ground testing from December 2012, including runway taxi tests. The aircraft made its maiden flight lasting one hour on January 26, 2013. On 6 February 2016 the Y-20 was flown for the first time. The Y-20 is powered by four 12-ton thrust Soloviev D-30KP-2 engines, and all early production units are likely to be similarly powered. The Chinese intend to replace the D-30 with the 14-ton thrust WS-20, which is required for the Y-20 to achieve its maximum cargo capacity of 66 tons.
All the above, should be ringing alarm bells in India and compel us to develop our strategic airlift capability. Mere 10 xC17s with the 11th on order together with a handful of vintage IL76 D are simply not enough. In case USA wants to be a real friend that we must ask them to sell us another 25 xC17s from their Reserves, so that the IAF has three squadrons of these 75 ton strategic air lifters at the earliest.
Next we must take a considered decision to build an aircraft capable of carrying 50 tons along with its variants as Refuellers and AWACS. We need to have around six squadrons of this aircraft as strategic airlifter, three squadrons as Refuellers and three squadrons as AWACS. Thus around 144 of this aircraft will be required.
Seeing the Chinese capability build up, we need to start designing such an aircraft which may start entering IAF service in 2045. However for today to face the Chinese build up, we need to select the Russian IL76 MD90A which has entered. An order may be placed for a total of 24 aircrafts out of which 12 aircrafts to form one transport squadron, 6×aircrafts as Refueller variant and another 6xaircrafts to be turned into AWACS. Rest 120 aircrafts should me made in India, spread over next 12 to 15 years.
The overall characteristics of IL76 MD90 A are much better than Y20 except that its maximum payload will be 52 tons only. Ilyushin IL-76MD-90A is a new military transport aircraft and not just a modernised version of the IL-76MD.The factory test flight of the first IL-76MD-90A was concluded in January 2013 and concluded in 2014 end.
IL-76MD-90A is developed like the earlier IL76 to transport a range of military equipment, armed personnel, heavy and long size vehicles and cargoes. It is also used in parachuting cargo / troops and other air borne cargo missions.
It has a maximum take-off weight of 210t and can carry a maximum payload of 52t. It can accommodate up to five crew members.
The cargo cabin of the aircraft is designed with a length of 24.5m (with ramp), width of 3.45m, and height of 3.4m. The cargo cabin offers an interior volume of 321m³.Just like the earlier version, it is capable of carrying 126 parachutists or 145 troops in single deck arrangement and 225 troops in double-deck arrangement. It can also be installed with special equipment to carry 114 injured persons.
The aircraft is installed with an Aerial-Delivery System (ADS) for dropping of cargoes, transportation of armed forces cargo containers and pallets, and troop parachutes.
The ADS installed onboard the IL-76MD-90A facilitates dropping of parachutists from an altitude of 8,000m at 220km/h to 400km/h speeds. It also enables equipment dropping with the help of parachutes from altitudes of 300m to 4,000m at 260km/h to 400km/h speeds.
The cargo dropping system aboard the aircraft ensures the dropping of platforms laden with shipments and equipment. The under-ladder devices, roller ways and winches in the cabin allow the loading of cargoes and equipment into the aircraft.
IL-76MD-90A is installed with four fourth generation PS-90A-76 turbofan bypass engines. It consumes 12% lesser fuel than previous model and offers an increased flight range of 18%.
The PS-90A-76 engine on board the IL-76MD-90A aircraft is compliant with latest ICAO requirements for noise and emission levels. An Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) TA-12A is installed onboard the aircraft.
The aircraft can cruise at a speed of 820-850km/h. It can fly at a maximum altitude of 12,000m. The maximum range of the aircraft is 8,500km. The aircraft requires 1,700m take-off distance on concrete runway.The life expectancy of the IL-76MD-90A military transport aircraft is 30 years. The aircraft can accumulate a maximum of 30,000 flying hours throughout its service life.