Mystery behind repeated C-130 mishaps cleared

February 21st saw a C-130J Super Hercules while taxi-ing for a night sortie at the Thoisie ALG in Ladakh instead of taking-off, run smack into a solid structure, nearly shearing off part of a wing and an outer turboprop engine requiring major expenditure to make the plane fit again. That this plane had the CO of the Hindon-based 77 Squadron, a presumably experienced transport pilot, one Grp Cpt Jasveen Singh Chathrath, at the controls only makes it worse. Three years back on March 28, 2014, another of this type of airlifter on a low level Special Forces’ drop training sortie proved that in IAF hands, it is neither super nor Hercules, leave alone ‘super Hercules’, when it dove into the ground killing the entire crew. [Originally in this post written last night, I said that a C-17 had gone down. Not so, My wrong!]

After the 2014 C-130 accident,  the statement by the air chief at the time Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said the service had picked the best pilots to take charge of these American planes. If this is the level of aircraft handling ability of the best IAF transport pilots, then speculating about the averagely competent pilot’s ability (or lack of it) beggars the imagination.

But let’s tally the cost of the mishaps. The first lot of six C-130s were bought from Lockheed for Rs 6,000 crores, or a cool Rs 1,000 crore per plane. With one of these aircraft already lost, IAF has already had to write off Rs 1,000 crores. Not to be deterred, IAF means to buy a second lot of eight Super Hercules and, after a decent interval to give the Exchequer time to recover, a third lot of 6 aircraft for a fleet strength, minus the lost C-130, of 19 aircraft in all.

Ten C-17s were purchased for Rs 18,645 crores from Boeing, the unit price of some Rs. 1,865 crores. Fortunately, Boeing has closed down the C-17 production line. So IAF-cum-Govt of India’s apparent default option of buying C-17s and C-130Js more to keep Washington pleased  and the two US aviation  majors in a happy state of anticipating richer deals in the offing, than because acquiring more and more of such aircraft makes any military, economic, or even political sense — is a line I have taken in previous writings. Especially, as the IAF chiefs have time and again disavowed any expeditionary role for the Indian military, which is what these planes do best. In the event, if all that was required of these aircraft was to lift troops from one sector to another, the IAF could, surely, have made do with the more economical workhorses to-date, the An-12s and An-32s.

The CAG in its 2014 Report was harsh on the parties involved, slamming Boeing for not fulfilling its offsets commitments — no simulators and ground equipment, such as fork lifts, were set up on Indian air bases, the IAF for not preparing the Hindon tarmac and the potential landing grounds elsewhere to the level of the required Pavement Classification Number, and implicitly both the GOI and IAF for not making any fuss whatsoever about the US Company not delivering on its contract obligations. The CAG also pointed out that owing to the absence of special forklifts on all the potential bases and LGs, the Super Hercules was compelled to carry one in its belly wherever it landed or took off from, but it took so much internal aircraft space — fully 35% of the cargo hold, that instead of just one sortie to carry a full load, two sorties were needed to do the job. And that cost money. The CAG calculated that it costs India Rs 43.19 lakh for every hour a C-130 is in the air.  Post-CAG Report, whatever else was done or not done, Lockheed hurriedly setup a C-130 simulator near Delhi. It is not known if just one simulator is all that has been paid for, and whether the C-17 buy too mandated a Globemaster simulator in India which, perhaps, is not considering there are only 10 C-17s, a number that does not justify a simulator.

Like in the adventure — “Silver Blaze”, where Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery of the missing horse by referring to the fact of the non-barking dog in the stable (who recognized the miscreant as his master and didn’t raise hell), the mystery about why the Indian government did not cry foul and penalize Lockheed, is also easily solved. New Delhi (previously run by Manmohan Singh and now by Narendra Modi) as mentioned  wants to be on the right side  of the US because America is viewed as the vehicle for India to ride to economic prosperity and technological Valhalla! Remember too that the Lockheed F-16 and Boeing F-18 are on the short list of the proposed buy of 200 single-engined combat aircraft.

But the matter of the unfulfilled offsets is of the gravest concern particularly because foreign suppliers, while ready to pocket the money,  are aware that GOI will do nothing if they fail to follow-through on their obligations. In previous posts the fact of all kinds of extraneous expenditures being counted as offsets has been mentioned, such as seminars and conferences hosted by the supplier Companies, etc. And it is very likely that Boeing and Lockheed charged the offsets account for the use of their simulators in the US to train IAF’s C-17 and C-130 pilots, even though the main purpose of the offsets is to help build up an industrial-technological base in India. Then again, why should foreign companies deliver when there’s not a squeal out of the govt if they don’t?

The IAF, on its part, would have been pleased to carry on doing what it had done prior to the installation of the simulator here post-CAG Report : Send pilot crews in relays to train on Boeing simulators in Seattle an Lockheed simulators some place else in the US at additional expense (if nothing else in terms of extra pilot hard currency allowances and stipends for stays abroad). Why is lacing the selected transport pilots’ careers with nice little holidays in the American Northwest to uplift their spirits, not a good thing, is IAF’s thinking, given that the poor chaps cannot strut around back home like the fighter-jocks, who also hog all the plum posts in the service.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Mystery behind repeated C-130 mishaps cleared

  1. Shaurya says:

    Scathing and True!!

    • Jeet Hormuz says:

      Scathing indeed but absolute crap. It’s a pity that half baked ‘experts’ can shoot from the hip on any subject under the sun without a shred of accountability. Wake up and get your facts straight before your next missive, sir.

  2. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    You should be thankful only the stupid fork lift is counted as offset commitment. Sometime back somebody had suggested, the engine could be the offiset. May be it was said mockingly but would not be impossible. Somehow the pilot is always Indian. If we have to rely on US equipment then why cannot the piloting be done by US pilots on deputation to IAF. We can send our pilots to USAF as part of a no loss no profit deal. Both sides will get to do what they ultimately want to.

    RE. “Not to be deterred, IAF means to buy a second lot of eight Super Hercules and, after a decent interval to give the Exchequer time to recover, a third lot of 6 aircraft”

    And the sorry thing is I, my son and millions standing in lines till last month, have to pay taxes just so that these guys can go on and on with this expensive, dog and pony show.

  3. Stupid mistake. No C-17 Globemaster has crashed as Karnad alleges. That accident was also a C-130. How can one belive this delusional man?

  4. Ankit Singh says:

    When did the C 17 incident happened?
    There are only 5 incidents of C 17 and that only of USAF.

  5. Rohit says:

    I don’t think we lost any C-17.

  6. Rogan Roy says:

    Wrong info sir.
    First of all the C-130J damaged in Thoise was not written off, it was repaired within two weeks after which it flew back to Hindon for further maintenance.
    It will be fully operational soon.

  7. Rituraj says:

    You have confused c 17 with c 130 and An 32 couple of times. None of the c-17 have been lost and there are ten of them. Some fact checking is needed. You do understand that Thoise in winter night in heavy icy conditions is extreme kind of flying c-130.

  8. AHGT says:

    Mr Karnad, first of all you need to get your facts straight. 10 C-17s have been procured and there have been no accidents. Secondly, you also have the number of C-130s being procured wrong.As a supposedly ‘leading’ research fellow, at least do your research properly. Your disparaging comments about the IAF pilots make me doubt your true intentions. You also do not understand the difference in capabilities of a C-130 and C-17 vis-a-vis AN 32 and An12. If this is the quality of a leading research fellow, I shudder to think of the other people masquerading as research fellows and experts.

  9. Sanjai says:

    Which “C-17 flying in to a hill” accident are you talking about? Nothing of that kind has happened in the IAF sir. Kindly fact-check before penning such atrocious lies.

  10. Anant says:

    These people will write anything to get news out..Did the author even know the difference between a c17/c130??

  11. KVKolal says:

    Bharat, yeh aapse nahin ho sakta …chod do!
    The piece is full of innuendos and conjectures…
    Pray when did the iaf C17 crash?!
    The C130 J crash at Gwalior was during a low level tactical training mission. It would help if you do some research on why is the mission is practiced and what’re the risks involved.
    IAFs use of the Super Hercules is both Super and Herculean if you understand where and how it’s being used. Try googling…
    As for the current accident….It’s called normal operating risk…And it’s ever present in any operation. If you happen to be driving anywhere in India…Let alone in Delhi, a touch here or there is a high probability. Yes undoubtedly the last incident at Thoise was avoidable… You are accusing the CO of the unit who was in command to have deliberately run into the pole. And he didn’t run into a pole during takeoff but during taxy at night. Shameful?! No sir!! These things happen! But then again how does one expect you to understand these things…
    As regards procurement…CAG report’s scathing attacks on the US companies’ shortfalls.. Dunno where you found the piece.
    C17s routinely operate all over India..Never seen them short of capacity or equipment. Again… you need to brush up your gen.
    Yes it’s not cheap to operate the C130/C17..For what you spend…What it delivers matters more than what you spend. Perhaps a little study on air power would be useful here..To understand cost-benefit aspect of airpower..!
    So much of your piece is worthless for being purely speculative and needlessly accusative…
    It’s really necessary for you to remember that accuracy and deeper understanding of the subject matter are virtues someone in your line can ill afford to ignore…

    • The 2015 Report, like all such investigations published by the CAG, is in the public realm. Be a good citizen, access these reports and be appalled by what CAG routinely reveals about the extent and scale of waste in the military, MOD, and the government generally.

      • jagjeet says:

        If you look at military operations from bureaucratic prism, this will be the result. You being ac research fellow, please know F-18 ain’t a single engine fighter. P.S. I don’t expect you to know the difference between a turboprop or a turbojet forget about the comparison of capabilities of An-12 & C-17. Did you also research about the maintenance cost vs serviceability state of An-32 n C-130J? Do that if you can. Regarding paid holidays funded by blah-blah, fine examples exist in journos. Look around please. Pilots going for sims, just check their schedules, no holidays no fun serious business.

      • Wish the correspondents who are exercised about this had actually read what I wrote, namely, that C-17s/C-130Js are best for extensive expeditionary (inclusive of SF) military activity and that if airlift was all these planes are required to pull, perhaps we could do with more economical alternatives, Like the Antonovs.

  12. Amit says:

    Ya maintaining armed forces is a costly affair. But that is also an intangible thing to compare things in military like a petty lala doing accounting of each paise. Why the writer has easily chosen to forget the laurels that these two aerpolanes have brought to the country in the recent past like evacuation from Yemen, Nepal earthquake response and so on, speaks a lot abt the writer’s intentions. These are the intangibles that cannot be measured by any lala like the CAG. Yes accidents do happen, because the IAF goes to places where others even cant dare to go.. match it and u will see that what IAF does is incomparable in world. And yes these are the intangibles which people like this author with a pure lala mindset cannot fathom ever in their life. And for the author who is concerned abt the loss to exchequer can he cross his heart and say that he never evaded taxes ever in his life… rest u can judge.

    • Yes, have never evaded taxes because, honestly, had no opportunity to as taxes have always been deducted at source. With only 2%-3% of the country’s total population paying taxes and keeping the Indian state somehow afloat, unless one is salaried and do not have a choice, there’s every incentive to not pay taxes. Just imagine the health of the exchequer if, say, 60%-70% paid what’s due to the state. So the salaried class carries the Indian society on its weak and tottering shoulders, even as everybody else rides its coattails and every year the Finance Minister raises the floor for taxable income.

  13. Venkat says:

    One hundred percent bull shit article.
    We need to appreciate that the Indian armed forces are pushing their limits during peace times.
    Landing in that god forsaken air field at night ! Fabulous effort.

    By the way tne aircraft is back to Home base is the news. So the damage must have been very small.

    Maybe time you retire

  14. Rahul Monga says:

    It is clear that titles like topmost strategic expert are self proclaimed if one cannot do basic research about the aircraft involved in accidents. As rightly pointed out by another commentator, no C17s have been lost. Probably the author’s belligerent attitude towards the IAF prevented him from doing basic research. Which hill did the C17 crash into – if it did? This statement is something like the riots in Sweden which President Trump trumped up a few days ago.

    The accident of the C130J was most likely due to the pilot getting into wake turbulence on a tactical sortie at low levels. Though not condonable, training has its risk.

    Pilots do not aspire to hit objects. If there was a ground taxi accident, well it was what it was – an accident.

    The argument regarding the IAF not preparing the tarmac for the required pavement classification number is pure hogwash. The C130 can land on kutcha strips and all IAF tarmacs are better than that.

    The problem with self styled strategic experts like Mr Karnad is that there is no peer review, before publishing articles. It is utterly bizzare that people like him are allowed to get away with absolute non news with nil strategic insight what so ever.

    The point of the article is lost. Is it about whether pilots should visit USA for a holiday? Or about GoI not ensuring contracts? Or strutting fighter pilots. Or Americans hoodwinking us? A whole lot of gibberish without any positive sense of action, this article just goes to prove the sorry state of affairs are so called think tanks are in and is utterly immature to say the least.

  15. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Wow! so some of you people know a C-130 from a C-17. Pappu, pass ho hi gaya.

    You people never came to comment on the Tejas related essays.

    But C-17 is close to your hearts, kya? Its a bloody water carrier plane and too expensive at that. Good only for show sha bazi.

    carry non man, and insert a few more of such inane errors just to spite them, but go on with the truth. I, for one don’t mind an error that is not central to the message.

    • Shail says:

      This writer is just a demagogue whose whole aim is to raise hackles and get TRPs, like all armchair cricketers who never played in their life commenting on the Indian team. How does he get his info? Saucy corridor gossip from his cronies. He has no knowledge of any operations whatsoever, beyond what he sees on TV or read in novels, (that way you should be nuclear scientist ad a strategist too… LoL and LMAO) … and since you are going on about the Tejas, exactly which part is indigenous? engine … hmm.. no!, weapons..ummm….No!!!,…..sorry!!, manoeuvrability..sorry obese like Bharat … cant climb or turn except in Airshows..and wink wink..we know whats done in Airshows don’t we? so lets lay off the facts and create some news for a change! because we’ve got people to malign and work to do! …Go FanBoys……( Your turn) 🙂

      • Shail@ — Tejas is an all-Indian,indigenous, design and that’s the most significant aspect about the Tejas (and the Arju MBT). It is the locus genesis of a local defence industry. Without the designing capability, the rest amounts to little. Had Indian entities designed all its hardware and left it to be filled with foreign components, sub-assemblies and assemblies, that would be a very great advance on the current situation.

  16. Shaurya says:

    @Bharat: Let the fact checkers keep on pointing to your typos – they seem to be lost on the truths of how defense policy is managed.The following is lost on so many folks of how some of the choices are made.

    “Send pilot crews in relays to train on Boeing simulators in Seattle an Lockheed simulators some place else in the US at additional expense (if nothing else in terms of extra pilot hard currency allowances and stipends for stays abroad). Why is lacing the selected transport pilots’ careers with nice little holidays in the American Northwest to uplift their spirits, not a good thing,”

    Talk about missing the woods for the trees by some detractors here.

  17. Atul says:

    At least, its confirmed that your blog is widely read. The comments are all over the blog and twitter. 😜😜😜

  18. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    One of the Deshbhakt says – “You are accusing the CO of the unit who was in command to have deliberately run into the pole. And he didn’t run into a pole during takeoff but during taxy at night. Shameful?! No sir!!”

    With this kind of Deshbhakt in charge in India today, one can only get the CO kind of ‘best pilots’.

    This shows the level of servility and pusillanimous attitude with these america bhakt dressed up as a deshbhakt.

    I had to read the essay again just to find out where exactly BK said ‘CO had deliberately run into the pole’. BK did raise a hell of a lot of dust because he has moved that much earth in this one essay. But nowhere did he say that the ‘CO had deliberately run into the pole’. But the Deshbhakt above must say it nonetheless because fraud is the ‘in’ thing these days.

    Hell! BK actually did not even raise the issue of competence levels of the CO, which in a court can prima facie be agitated. All that BK has said, in my view justifiably, is the manner in which a desired competence level is sought to be achieved with extraneous considerations and yet the level of achievement remains stunted precisely because of wrong priorities put in place by these extraneous considerations.

    And how the hell does it matter if the accident happened during take off or during landing, at night or at day. This is Thoise for gods sake, operational now for several years and with a fuller sized tarmak. What is expected as normal for Thoise? You want an arrestor hook or a longer runway or day time only flying or no poles around or water-carrier duties only? Kya chahiye tum longon ko? Seedha kyun nahi bolte?

    • Shail says:

      Yeh chahiye, ki jo maidan mein utarne se darte hain, aur bina expertise , knowledge and fact checking faltu comment na Karen toh hi accha hoga!

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:


        There are things more hateful then not being able to stand ground. Hope you and those you stand for, have give thought about it.

  19. Rahul says:

    In the present day and age no doubt, social media has become a major source of information to the netizens. Journalism too has to be responsive and responsible.
    Mr. Bharat Karnad’s statements in topic are factually incorrect, fabricated and poorly researched. The present age citizens on the social media platforms, are more informed and analytical than he thinks. Such an article on the operations of C-130/C-17 and attaching mystery to some incident, has questioned the intellect of readers and certainly has let me down about his so elaborate sounding track record.
    In my opinion Mr. Bharat Karnad has tried to vilify the Air Force without verifying the facts. His comments on professionalism of our heroes clearly indicate his preconceived bias and shallow knowledge about the training of pilots. It is neither easy nor everybody’s cup of tea.
    Immature commenting on Ex Air Chief Marshal’s statement about picking up of the best pilots for these American planes is indicative of kind of abysmally poor journalism. Air Chief is the most experienced aviator and he definitely deserves that respect from all countrymen, including Mr. Karnad.
    Aircraft are meant to be flown not to remain parked. Air Force pilots have been doing their job effectively and never let country down and hence do not require certifications from psudo- professionals who have little knowledge about civil/military flying.
    The utilization of these very aircraft in natural calamities, providing relief to the needy during floods, bringing back our brotherens stranded in Sudan and transporting currency when required by the nation, speaks volumes about their capability during peacetime operations. Comparing with old generation fleet, once again shows inadequate research and knowledge.
    I am not aware of the contract between Govt. of India and Lockheed about training on simulators or supply of simulators but common sense says that no deal is made without training being a part of it and since India does not produces these aircraft, the pilots have to undergo training abroad till simulators are established. Making a statement such as transport pilots are granted little holidays abroad to uplift their spirit is the most irresponsible expression of a bee mind.
    Mr. Karnad’s irresponsible statements generate misinformation. Please let the professionals do their job and let the spirit of “Touch the Sky with Glory” prevail. And do only what YOU can do slightly better.

  20. Malhar says:

    U have raised pertinent issues.

    Which C-17 crashed in the hills? Has any C-17 of the IAF crashed ever? Which airborne forklift has been made that it takes 35% of space and load? How can you contest professionalism of the pilots? When you have no competence in their field, how did you of all people, step into such a cesspool of allegations???

    Very disappointed with your apparent fall from the pulpit of strategic thought and instead resorting to allegations and insinuations in the garb of researched facts.

    Please live up to our expectations of being India’s strategic thinker of renownand hawk of renown. Don’t reduce urself to a bumbling old man who rambles on and on bereft of adequate research.

  21. Only one comment for the folks who are commenting strongly to Me Karnad’s mistake. Get over it. He has accepted and corrected it. Now you give clean chit to IAF as ‘heroes’ Even if mistake did IAF own up and what did it do to correct them.

    Don’t use this mistake of Mr Karnad to stone him for he has asked uncomfortable questions in past and will do so in future. His credibility is fully intact.

    Address the substantial issues raised by him.

  22. Avi says:

    A very scathing piece, effectively saying that India does not need heavylift military aircraft.
    Now that these two particular aircrafts are saving the bacon flying armour, mech-inf and artillery in, maybe he is gallant enough to admit his judgement on ‘expeditionary’ requirements was ill-placed.

    • Have always argued for an expeditionary Indian military capability (detailed in my 2015 book – Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) — but also for appropriate allocation of financial resources. If we keep investing in C-17s and C-130s but nothing in distant ops-oriented land forces and wherewithal, then we have an utterly unbalanced system.

      • Avi says:

        Appreciate that point, sir, but it did not come through in your piece. A very scathing review does not allow the average reader to get an objective PoV, although I suppose that is not the intent either.
        And I do appreciate your point that we don’t really deserve good equipment if we can lose an un-crashable piece of kit.
        Thanks for the book reco, I shall read it.

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