On Friday morning, one of the the Indian Air Force’s brand new C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft crashed near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, shortly after taking off from Agra. According to NDTV, all five air force personnel aboard the aircraft were killed. The C-130 J is one of India’s largest transport aircraft and was on a routine training mission. The C-130 J that crashed was part of a batch of six that were purchased from the United States for $1.1 billion four years ago. The aircraft was reportedly also used in the search effort for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
The crash has prompted shocked reactions considering the C-130 J’s record of reliability and reputation. Ajai Shukla, a columnist for India’s Business Standard and expert on Indian defense matters tweeted “This is a highly reliable, four-engine aircraft that is considered ‘un-crashable.’ How did this happen?” The C-130 J has a particularly rigid airframe and is capable of toting up to 20 tons of material.
The C-130 J is of particular utility to the IAF given the ease with which the aircraft can take off and land on improvised and underdeveloped airfields, even under poor lighting conditions. According to Defense Industry Daily, India operates its C-130 Js in conjunction with Ilyushion IL-76s and Antonov AN-32s.
The C-130 J is a critical asset for the Indian Air Force. In its short time with the IAF so far, it has proved useful for a variety of purposes – most recently search and rescue in the MH370 case. During the April 2013 Daulat Beg Oldie incident when Chinese troops entered Indian territory, India flew its C-130 J aircraft to the area to send a signal to Chinese troops. The C-130 J is intended for troop and supply delivery and is capable of carrying massive cargo.
The incident may drag the IAF into a similar sort of controversy that gripped the Indian Navy after a series of accidents occurred over the course of a year, eventually prompting the Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy Admiral D.K. Joshi to retire, taking moral responsibility for the incidents. The IAF will likely begin an investigation of the circumstances of the crash. Furthermore, Defense Minister A.K. Antony has already found himself mired in controversy and the C-130 J crash will likely prompt critics to take aim at his management.