India Seeks New Tankers for a Third Time

 - January 31, 2018, 8:21 AM
An artist's impression of an A330MRTT refueling two Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fighters.

India has again released a request for information (RFI) for in-flight refueling aircraft, according to The Economic Times. However, no RFI has yet appeared on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) website. The MoD previously conducted two rounds of bidding for a new tanker and selected the Airbus A330MRTT in preference to the Ilyushin Il-78. But no contract was concluded.

AIN has learned that this latest move is of the utmost importance to the Indian Air Force (IAF). Nearly half of the six IL-78 tankers that are already in service are grounded, awaiting upgrades to their PS-90 engines. The IAF urgently needs more tankers to support the deployment of fighters to the Chinese border area, following the recent heightened tensions. Commercial satellite imagery shows Indian Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters in place on two airbases in the Himalayas, and deployments of J-10 and J-11 fighters to airbases on the Chinese side.

The two earlier tenders were cancelled primarily due to high costs, which could now be even greater given the depreciation of the Indian rupee over the past few years. While the acquisition cost of the Il-78 was lower, the lifecycle cost of the four-engine Russian tanker was much higher than that of the A330MRTT. Since both aircraft have already undergone trials, a new acquisition deal could be done on a government-to-government basis given the urgency.

Boeing has been in discussions with India about its KC-46 Pegasus tanker based on the 767-200. But the A330MRTT has a range of 6,350 nm, while the KC-46 has a range of 3,850 nm. Airbus also offers 9,065 gallons more fuel capacity and better fuel consumption.

At a recent MRO summit in New Delhi, Air Marshal Sukhchain Singh, who retired from the IAF’s Maintenance Command, said there is a potential synergy between civil and military MRO. He suggested that private providers in India could offer to maintain airliner-based tankers for the IAF.

Additional reporting by Chris Pocock