India inducted the expensive C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft from the US to acquire swift strategic airlift capabilities, mainly to transport combat-ready troops and weapons to the border with China in times of conflict.
But the rugged IAF aircraft, which are capable of even landing on small, makeshift runways with short turnaround times, are proving their worth in gold in providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief in India's extended neighborhood much more than the "military power-projection" capabilities they are designed for.
Along with Indian naval warships, the C-130Js and C-17s have further burnished the country's credentials as the "first responder" in the region in times of crisis, whether it's the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 or the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday.
It's not only disaster rescue personnel, engineering equipment, relief material and the like that these aircraft have transported, they have also airlifted tonnes of potable water, like they did when the main water treatment plant in Maldives was damaged last December.
Just a few days ago, operating out of the Hindon airbase on the outskirts on New Delhi, the aircraft play a critical role in evacuating the 5,000 Indians from war-torn Yemen. In between, the C-130Js and C-17s of course have also flown military missions to Port Blair, Leh and Thoise as well as "special" ones to energy-rich Tajikistan and Rwanda in central Africa.
In August 2013, a C-130J had for the first time landed at the rudimentary airstrip in Daulat Beg Oldi (eastern Ladakh) at an altitude of 16,614-feet, the highest such advanced landing ground in the world that overlooks the strategic Karakoram Pass and is just about 7-km from the Line of Actual Control with China. A C-130J is capable of airlifting up to 20 tonnes of load, which is five to six times the capacity of Russian medium-lift AN-32 aircraft in the IAF fleet. The gigantic four-engine C-17, in turn, can swiftly airlift a 70-tonne cargo across 4,200-km.
It was in 2007 that India had first inked a deal for six C-130J aircraft with the US for $962 million. Then, in 2011, came the $4.1 billion contract for 10 C-17s. While one C-130J crashed near Gwalior in March last year, which killed five personnel, India has ordered another six C-130Js for $1.01 billion.