Friday 03 December 2021, 06:58 AM
Western Mid Air Refuelling Aircraft could be choice for IAF
By Sushil Sharma | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 1/23/2019 1:52:46 PM
Western Mid Air Refuelling Aircraft could be choice for IAF

For the third time in a decade, the Indian Air Force is looking at having new mid-air re-fuellers for its fighter jet fleet. The IAF re-fuellers are also tasked with the Indian Navy’s fighter jet fleet of MiG-29K.In January this year India’s Ministry of Defence issued a fresh request for information (RFI) for six mid-air refueling tankers, following two abortive earlier attempts. The first was issued in 2007.This time the requirement specifies that the tanker aircraft be powered by two turbofan engines, means the Russian IL-78 has been ruled out till it gets new engines.

The RFI includes the option of procuring a suitable used aircraft, which can be modified for the tanker role. Since tankers are derivatives of commercial jet planes, this will be easier to do. The possible candidates: Yet again the European company Airbus will pitch in with the multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) – based on the A330 plane. Boeing, the US company – will be in the race and is keen to pitch its KC-46 – derived from the Boeing-767 platform.The Airbus has been twice selected for New Delhi’s tanker requirement. Unfortunately, both times the deal has fallen through, leaving the Air Force to carry on using the Russian made IL-78 tankers.

The last deal, for six refuellers, was cancelled in mid-2016. The request for proposals was withdrawn, apparently owing to concerns over costs. The Finance Ministry objected to the high costs. Boeing has entered the fray for supplying mid air refuelling tankers for the Indian Air Force (IAF). After ignoring the first two previous tenders, Boeing’s Pegasus tankers will compete with the European Airbus A330. 

Since the RFI allows converted jet is possible, the Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI) has one such conversion done on the Boeing 767 into a multi mission tanker transport (MMTT). The IAI has done it for the Brazilian air force. The present fleet of IAF: It operates six IL-78 planes bought in 2003-04 at Rs 132 crore a piece from Russia and wants six more that could cost nearly US $ 2 Billion  ( almost Rs 15,000 crore). The fleet is headed for a major overhaul that will upgrade engines allowing them to take off from shorter runways.

A report of the Comptroller  and Auditor General (CAG) of India in July 2017 said the IAF’s runways are too short for its IL-78 to take off with full load. An IL-78 requires a runway length of 11,480 feet to 15,022 feet to carry full fuel loads. A decade ago, the IAF identified 10 airfields for mid-air refuelling where infrastructure was to be created, including extended runways, to fully exploit the platform. “The runway length at these 10 airfields was below 10,000 feet. It was observed that only runway…was extended partially up to 10,500 feet,” said the report tabled in Parliament.

The CAG also said serviceability of aerial refuelling pods – hoses used to transfer fuel – was poor due to frequent failures, inadequate repair facilities and poor maintenance support from the manufacturer, adversely impacting operations.The desired serviceability of the IL-78 fleet should be 70% by IAF’s own standards. But it stood at 49% during 2010-16. Simply put, barely half of the planes were available for missions at any given time.



Indian Air Force,re-fuellers,Indian Navy,MiG-29K


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