The Indian Air Force (IAF) is seeking to buy six new flying tankers to augment its existing aerial refueling capability. The two companies are competing on this tender, expected to cost around 9,000-crore (US$2 billion) include Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and EADS. Both offers include the planes they put forward for the first tender. U.S. aircraft maker Boeing considered its new-generation 767 model as a possible contestant, but missed the January 12 deadline to submit its bid. Boeing cited uncertainty with the U.S. Air Force’s order for 179 aerial tankers as a reason for not entering the competition for the Indian order, which is estimated at $2 billion.
EADS is offering the A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport currently being delivered to Australia. The company said it will be able to deliver the first A330 MRTT within three years of signing the order, with the remaining five to be supplied up to 15 months later. The IAF currently operates 6 Ilyushin IL-78MKI. These planes are customized variants of the Il-78ME built in Uzbekistan, designed specifically for the Indian Air Force. They are fitted with a aerial refueling system designed by IAI Bedek, capable of refueling 6-8 Su-30MKIs on each sortie.
In September 2009, the Indian Finance Ministry had rejected the Indian Air Force/MoD selection of the A330 MRTT as too costly. Reports at the time suggested the final price of the A330 MRTT package for six aircraft was Rs 8,000-crore (around $1.8-billion), compared with Rs 5,000-crore ($1.12-billion) paid for the previous IL-78MKI package. However, these planes have experienced serviceability issues with the IAF, which led the service to cancel the bid, raising its requirement for the new tender.
As a side route for the Boeing 767, Israel proposed to equip India with used 767 planes, modified into military flying tankers, but the Indian Air Force insists on buying new aircraft, therefore shelving the Israeli proposal.
The Russian offer likely to be the least costly, has also gained another advantage, since it is likely to integrate the Israeli system that already has proven to work with all Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contenders during recent flight testing carried out last summer in India. EADS is likely to offer their own refueling systems, already integrated into their respective platforms.