June 18, 2009:
India wants to buy ten U.S. C-17 aircraft, to fill a need for strategic air transports. The main competition was the Russian Il-76, which mainly competed on price, at about $50 million each. The C-17, which costs at least three times as much, is also able to carry up to 86 tons. What the C-17 is best at is carrying about half that weight, half way around the world, non-stop. The C-17 is also easier to fly, and can also operate from short, primitive, air strips.
The C-17 is also easier to maintain, and more reliable. But a fuel-efficient Il-76, that can be refueled in the air, has a price that's tough to beat. The latest version, the Il-76MF, has a payload of 60 tons, and a cargo compartment that is 50 percent larger than earlier models. With a full load, the aircraft can fly 4,200 kilometers. Carrying 20 tons, it can go 8,500 kilometers.
The Indians have 41 Il-76s, and were apparently looking to step up. The C-17 has a good track record, several satisfied foreign customers, and is a follow on to the American contemporary of the Il-76, the C-141 (which is now retired.) The Indians are also getting tired of unreliable prices and maintenance policies typical of Russian equipment. As India buys more Western systems, they note that the total (lifecycle) cost of more expensive Western gear tends to be less, or nearly the same, as with comparable Russian models. Plus, the Western gear is more effective, which is very important for a weapons system.