IAF’s C-130J Super Hercules ‘Races Against Time’ To Save Indian Soldier’s Hand Severed In Accident Near China

Indian Air Force’s (IAF) strategic airlifter, C-130 J Super Hercules, conducted a critical mission on April 11 as it raced against time to get an Indian Army soldier deployed in a forward area along the China border to Delhi.

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The Indian Army soldier had severed his hand while operating a machine at a unit located in the Ladakh sector. He had a window of 6 to 8 hours for an emergency surgery to get his hand reattached.

“The soldier reached Leh Air Force Station at 7 pm on April 10. The doctor gave us a window of 6 to 8 hours to conduct the hand-saving surgery. The C-130J got airborne from a base near Delhi within an hour,” the source told the EurAsian Times.

The C-130 J carried out a dark-night airlift using Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) to bring the soldier to the national capital.

“The aircraft made a dash, and the soldier reached Delhi by 11 pm the night, and surgery was successfully conducted at the Research and Referral Hospital. The soldier is already on the way to recovery,” the source added.

In January, the IAF’s C-130 conducted a successful night landing at the high-altitude Kargil airstrip near the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. The Lockheed Martin-made C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft landed in stealth mode with the elite Garud commandos on board.

The video shared by the IAF showed that the C-130J used their weather radars, infrared recce pods, and Night Vision Goggles for the “unassisted” landing. It was a similar landing done at Leh Airbase.

The time-sensitive mission carried out by the Super Hercules signifies the “responsiveness” with which the IAF has been responding to tragedies and missions in India and abroad.

IAF has 12 Super Hercules in its transport fleet. They were procured in two tranches of six aircraft in 2008 and 2014 for nearly US$1 billion each time under the United States’ Foreign Military Sales route.

India bought the C-130J primarily for specialist military operations in dangerous terrains under hostile conditions. The two squadrons – No. 77 ‘Veiled Vipers’ and No. 87 ‘The Raptors’ — are located at Hindon in Uttar Pradesh on the outskirts of Delhi and at Panagarh in West Bengal, respectively. They take care of operations against Pakistan and China.

The C-130J is the most advanced model of the C-130 Hercules mid-sized tactical airlifter.

In April 2023, the IAF’s C-130 J carried out a rescue mission in Sudan that rivaled that of the rescue mission carried out by the US forces during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The IAF’s Super Hercules carried out a pitch-dark night operation on April 27 and 28 to evacuate 121 people from a small unmanned airstrip in Sudan.

Without any aid from the ground, and amidst the threat of attacks on the aircraft, the Super Hercules, piloted by IAF officers, landed at the Wadi Sayyidna airstrip, about 40 km North of Khartoum in Sudan, to pick up the stranded Indians.

The airstrip had a degraded surface, no navigational approach aids or fuel, and, most critically, no landing lights required to guide an aircraft landing at night. Approaching the airstrip, the aircrew used their Electro-Optical/Infrared sensors to ensure that the runway was free from obstructions and that no inimical forces were in the vicinity.

Having ensured the same, the aircrew carried out a tactical approach on Night Vision Goggles on a practically dark night.

India operated two C-130Js as part of Operation Kaveri, launched recently to evacuate Indian nationals stranded in war-torn Sudan in 2023. Gunfights have been raging between rival groups seeking to wrest power. The IAF C-130Js flew out of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to airports and airstrips in Sudan to evacuate the affected Indian nationals.

IAF Super Hercules
A file photo of an IAF C-130J Super Hercules landing at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), the highest airstrip in the world. (IAF photo)

Super Hercules’ Special Operations

This is not the first time that a C-130 J has carried out a ‘daring’ night mission. On August 2, 2021, as part of Operation Devi Shakti, an IAF Super Hercules was tasked with a Special Operation in destabilized war-torn Afghanistan.

The embassy staff had already been evacuated on August 16, 2021, and India did not have any eyes on the ground for reliable intelligence on the situation in Kabul or the areas around the Kabul airport.

Group Captain Ravi Nanda, the Commanding Officer of a C-130J Transport Squadron, led the mission to fly into the vortex that Kabul was. The mandate was to insert a ‘Specialised Government Team’ to facilitate the swift evacuation of the Indian diaspora under imminent threat to their lives.

This high-risk midnight mission faced the utmost dangers of absolutely uncontrolled airspace, dense traffic of unknown aerial platforms, extremely limited visual cues in the middle of unforgiving mountainous terrain, and above all, a hostile ground situation with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-launched missiles.

“Nanda exhibited exceptional professional courage, grit, and leadership in flying this perilous mission with unprecedented threats emanating from a volatile war zone in the presence of radical militias,” a gallantry citation awarded to the pilot read.

Game-Changing Airlifters

The induction of C-17s and C-130s has augmented the IAF’s strategic airlift capability. The two aircraft’s maneuverability and onboard avionics are far superior to those of the previous transport aircraft because they are new. Another capability C-130J has is to land and take off from unprepared surfaces and shorter runways, which is an advantage in the forward areas.

The C-130J landed at DBO, the world’s highest airfield at 16,614 feet, close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China around ten years ago. The Nyoma ALG in Eastern Ladakh allows only specialized transport aircraft like the C-130J and helicopters to land.

Since their induction, the C-130J and another American transporter, the C-17 Globemaster, have become conduits for projecting the IAF’s might both on the country’s borders and thousands of miles away.

American airlifters have been game-changers for the IAF. The airlifting capabilities of the C-17 ‘Globemaster’ are 80 tonnes, which is double that of the Russian Il-76, which can carry 40 tonnes. The strategic airlifter C-130J Super Hercules, in turn, can carry 20 tonnes, compared to the Russian An-32’s 4-6 tonnes airlift capability.

The two US transporters have a technological edge over their Russian counterparts in terms of their propulsion systems. The C-17 has four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan power packs, and the C-130J-30s has four Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 turboprop engines, each rated at 4,591 shaft horsepower or 3,425 kW.

These engines provide more power for the aircraft to operate under extreme conditions. On the other hand, the Il-76s are powered by four Aviadvigatel PS-90-76 turbofan engines and the An-32 by two ZMKB Progress AI-20DM turboprop power packs, respectively.

The Russian An-32 and IL-76s have been the mainstay of the IAF’s airlift capability. It was an An-32 that reactivated the strategic airbase of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in the northern Himalayas after 43 years. However, with the limited load-carrying capacity of the Russian transport aircraft, the IAF decided to land a C-130J here.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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