The Indian Air Force (IAF) has selected the A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) for its tanker procurement in preference to the Ilyushin Il-78MK, after a second round of bidding. Commercial negotiations for six aircraft with an option for three more will start soon, and a contract that includes a 30-percent offset commitment is expected to be signed by June.
Airbus Military CEO Domingo Urena-Raso said, “This has been a long and tough competition, and we are honored to have been selected.” The depot maintenance and life support costs of the A330 were a factor in the Airbus win, since the base price of the Il-78 was lower. Having suffered in the past as a result of high maintenance costs and unavailability of spares for its Russian aircraft, India now mandates that lifecycle costs be taken into consideration in procurement decisions.
According to Airbus Military, a critical part of the evaluation was a demonstration of the A330 MRTT refueling a mix of fighter types, while operating from Leh airbase, which at 10,682 feet (3,256 m) is one of the highest in the world. Since the new variant of Il-78 had not yet flown, the Russians were obliged to demonstrate a civilian aircraft (from Volga Dnepr Airlines, which already operates PS90-powered versions of the Il-76). Though the new variant was not taken to Leh and no refueling was done, this was still in accordance with Indian procurement rules, since full capabilities can be demonstrated at a later stage.
Currently, the IAF has six Il-78 refuelers in its inventory. At least six more tankers will be required by 2022, when India’s squadron strength increases to 40, a defense official told AIN. Recently, the IAF announced that all its fighters would have refueling capability after the MiG-21s and MiG-27s are retired by 2017; the Jaguars, Mirages, MiG-29s, Sukhois and the Light Combat Aircraft all have probes. However, the Indian Navy has ordered 12 Boeing P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft that require boom refueling. “The A330 MRTT can have a boom as well as a drogue system, and the five ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] are so equipped,” an Indian defense official noted.
The Indian Air Force plans to deploy the tankers at Panagarh Air Base in the eastern state of West Bengal to help increase the range of its Su-30MKI fighters.
India will become the fifth country to order the A330 MRTT, following Australia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK, taking the total order book to 34 aircraft.