IAF C-17 in Ladakh
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Indian air force showcased how did they transport 44-ton K-9 Vajra to Ladakh

Recently India deployed modern self-propelled howitzers K9 Vajra and T-72 tanks close to the Chinese border after Beijing deployed many modern artillery systems there.

On October 5, when the 89th anniversary of the establishment of the Indian Air Force was approaching, the Indian Air force released a new promo film, which showed for the first time how the Indian Army’s newly equipped K-9 155mm The self-propelled howitzer was sent to the Indo-Sino border for deployment.

Like the previous transportation of T-72M1 tanks and T-90S tanks to the plateau, the Indian army also used the IAF C-17A Globemaster III heavy transport aircraft purchased from US, and the purchase of this transport aircraft is also considered to be one of the most successful arms procurement in the past 20 years.


Indian air force C-17A transports Indian army K-9 Vajra to Ladakh for deployment
Indian air force C-17A transports Indian army K-9 Vajra to Ladakh for deployment

There are two major roads between the Indian Army’s hinterland and Leh, a major town on the plateau. One is the strategic highway NH-1 that bypasses Kargil, and the other is the Manali-Leh highway from Himachal Pradesh to Leh. Comparing the two roads, the condition of NH-1 is excellent, but it still has many sections that are difficult for heavy vehicles to pass. Moreover, there is a large hill area difference throughout the highway, and many vehicles also face the dilemma of insufficient power in the latter half of the journey.

However, tanks and self-propelled artillery are required heavy trailers to transport, and also requirements low traffic to move faster. Take the K-9 Vajra as an example. The combat weight of the vehicle is 47 tons. The empty vehicle weighs between 44 tons and 45 tons, which is almost as heavy as the main battle tank. It is very laborious to transport a heavy trailer on the plateau highway. The conditions of the NH-1 highway cannot meet the road transportation of the gun also it will take days to transports such heavy machines, so the Indian Air Force can only use heavy transport aircraft to send the Howitzer to the plateau. Moreover, only the C-17A of the 81st Squadron can be use to transport. The main airlifter of the Indian air force, the Il-76MD, could not do such task.

T-72 loaded inside a C-17
T-72 loaded inside a C-17


The reason why the Il-76MD can’t be shipped is not because of its poor capacity, but because of its awkward cargo size. The width of the cargo compartment of the Il-76MD is only 3.46 meters, while the width of the K-9‘s hull is 3.4 meters, so the space on both sides is insufficient and the risk is greater. The cargo hold of the C-17A has a width of 5.49 meters with a large margin. It is more convenient to get on and off the aircraft and to fix it, and the safety of air transportation is high.

T-72 M1 in Il-76MD
T-72 M1 in Il-76MD

The transportation of T-72M1 tanks and T-90S tanks is actually the same. Although the Indian army transported the first batch of T-72M1 to the Ladakh as early as 1993 to 1994, for safety during the transportation, the turret was removed and the vehicle The body is shipped separately, and the side skirts of the vehicle body need to be removed to be carefully and slowly moved into the cargo hold. But Later IAF tested the whole vehicle transportation without dismantling the turret, but the incoming and outgoing cabin was still too uncomfortable and dangerous. In the end, it was only after the C-17A was introduced in 2013 that the problem of heavy equipment transportation on the plateau was really solved, and it was only in 2020 that the T-90S was sent to the plateau with the help of C-17.


So purely from the role played by the equipment, the 11 C-17A large transport aircraft of the 81st Squadron of the Indian Air Force is truly worth the money. Although the unit price of the purchase is as high as 580 million US dollars, which is higher than the unit price of others because Indian C-17 are specially modified to meet the criteria of Indian armed forces.

In 2012, the IAF reportedly finalized plans to buy six more C-17s in its five-year plan for 2017–2022. However, this option is no longer available since C-17 production ended in 2015. However, In June 2017, the U.S. Department of State approved the potential sale of one C-17 to India under a proposed $366 million U.S. Foreign Military Sale. This aircraft, the last C-17 produced, increased the IAF’s fleet to 11 C-17 In March 2018, a contract was awarded for completion by 22 August 2019.

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