How IAF’s Cargo Fleet is Helping Fight COVID-19

IAF’s Cargo - AviatorsBuzz (1)

“When everything else fails, we look up to that one organisation that never fails to achieve the impossible & that is Indian Armed Forces.”

In the last 7 decades of independence, India is fighting the biggest war till now, that too against an invisible enemy. We are losing about 4,000 souls every 24 hours in this fight which is much greater than the losses suffered during all our previous wars with Pakistan & China. There are lack of resources like medical oxygen, hospital beds & ICUs in most places & the entire nation is in a state of war right now. Producing medical grade oxygen is one side of the story & transporting them in cryogenic tanks to where they are needed on a daily basis is quite another. The Indian Air Force is responding exactly the way we expect an Air Force to respond during a war. IAF has deployed its massive resources & aircrafts to meet the shortage of medical oxygen as well as essential medical supplies. 

Airlift of cryogenic oxygen containers & medical equipment by an IAF C-17 from Israel- AviatorsBuzz
Pic: Airlift of cryogenic oxygen containers & medical equipment by an IAF C-17 from Israel.

The cargo fleet which comprises heavy lift aircrafts such as IL-76 & C-17 Globemaster as well as medium lift aircrafts like the C-130 Hercules & An-32 are being utilised to their full glory as means to transport oxygen from within the country as well as abroad. 

The IL-78 & the C-17 are heavy lifters of the IAF. In wartime scenario they are used to lift tanks & other heavy equipment & deploy them in the frontline at a very short notice. The IL-76 has a maximum payload capacity of 50 tons whereas the C-17 which is an even bigger aircraft has the payload capacity of 75 tons. Today these same aircraft, due to their capability to lift extremely heavy cargo, are transporting the entire oxygen tanker trucks from one part of the world to another. 

Till yesterday (7 May 2021), the C-17 Globemaster aircrafts have conducted 400 sorties from within the country, including 351 to airlift 252 oxygen tankers of a total capacity of 4,904 Metric Tonnes. The aircraft has airlifted oxygen tankers in Jamnagar, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Panagarh, Indore, Ranchi, Agra, Jodhpur, Begumpet, Bhubaneswar, Pune, Surat, Raipur, Udaipur, Mumbai, Lucknow, Nagpur, Gwalior, Vijaywada, Baroda, Dimapur, and Hindan.

Airlift of cryogenic oxygen containers from Bangkok & Singapore being undertaken by C-17 aircraft- AviatorsBuzz
Pic: Airlift of cryogenic oxygen containers from Bangkok & Singapore being undertaken by C-17 aircraft.

As other nations extended their help to India in the fight against COVID, the fleet of C-17s conducted 59 international sorties to transport 72 cryogenic oxygen storage containers with a total capacity of 1,233 Metric Tonnes. These containers and cylinders were procured from Singapore, Dubai, Bangkok, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and Australia. Furthermore, the C-17 and IL-76 aircraft have been tasked with transporting cryogenic oxygen tanks, oxygen generators, and ventilators from Israel and Singapore. Bringing in the loaded oxygen tankers are just half of the supply chain, returning them back to refill in the shortest time possible is another story. The C-17s have been able to ferry back 1,252 empty oxygen cylinders to international locations.

IAF C-130 being loaded with essential medical supplies & equipment at Palam Airbase - AviatorsBuzz (1)
Pic: An IAF C-130 being loaded with essential medical supplies & equipment at Palam Airbase.

The heavy lift fleet is also joined by C-130 & An-32 aircraft for airlift of medical personnel, ventilators & oxygen concentrators within India. The C-130 has a payload of 20 tons & the An-32 can carry up to 7 tons of cargo. These are smaller aircraft & cannot carry something as big as an oxygen tanker, but they come in handy when it is required to transport smaller shipments like portable oxygen cylinders, PPE kits, medical equipment at a short notice. 

The entire management of this logistical miracle is spearheaded from the “Covid Air Supply Management Cell” which is set up at the Palam Airbase. This team ensures speedy & efficient trans-shipment of medical supplies to various parts of the country via IAF’s cargo aircraft. 

Oxygen generating plant components arriving from Sulur to Delhi - AviatorsBuzz
Pic: Oxygen generating plant components arriving from Sulur to Delhi

DRDO’s on board oxygen generation plant based production facilities are being erected in various hospitals in different parts of the country & these aircraft are proving to be a cornerstone for this venture too. 

The urgency of the mission can be summed with the incident last week when hospitals across Chennai were in dire need of oxygen. A C-17 flew from Jamnagar, Gujrat all the way to United Kingdom on May 3rd, loaded a huge batch of oxygen cylinders & flew them directly back to Chennai by the morning of 5th May. 

Personnel and equipment of Rapid Action Medical Team (RAMT) been airlifted in C-130 from Air Force Stations Jorhat & Kalaikunda for the COVID hospital at Hindan - AviatorsBuzz
Pic: Personnel and equipment of Rapid Action Medical Team (RAMT) been airlifted in C-130 from Air Force Stations Jorhat & Kalaikunda for the COVID hospital at Hindan

These operations are being carried round the clock, all 7 days of the week by the transport squadrons of the IAF. The pilots, maintenance personnel & the entire ground crew of these squadrons are tirelessly working day & night to keep the aircrafts airworthy for sustained operations in this fight against COVID-19. The purpose of the armed forces is to fight during a national crisis & IAF along with efforts from the Indian Army as well as Indian Navy has proved that they are always prepared to address any disaster. The coordination, planning & execution of the IAF in providing the much needed logistical support is impeccable as we continue in this fight against COVID-19. As we showcased the testimony of the undaunting human spirit in the past, we shall continue to fight this pandemic till we emerge victorious. 

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It is not only the duty of IAF, or in a larger picture, frontline workers & healthcare professions to fight this pandemic. The usual common man like you & me can also join the fight by exercising the use of masks, maintaining social distancing, stepping out of home only when it is necessary, helping out friends & families of COVID infected people by providing them with resources & information about medical aid as much as possible. Stay strong & keep fighting. 

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Subhadeep is a military aviation & defence systems enthusiast who writes well researched & unbiased content. He has written over 300 articles which have helped close to 5 million viewers to have an understanding of Defence. Hailing from a military family, he has experienced the functioning of Indian Armed Forces for years which has led to the understanding & accurate portrayal of the forces in his content. He will be frequently writing about aircraft, strategy, weapons & all his content will be easily comprehensible even by the common man with a limited understanding on the subject.