|IAF IL-78 MKI tanker refueling two Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighters|
Indian Air Force has issued an RFI (request for Information) for the acquisition of six Aerial Refueling Aircraft and associated equipment.
The formal tender or RFP (request for proposal) will be floated after the responses to the RFI are submitted by this March end.
The acquisition is expected to cost $2 billion and is the third attempt by IAF to augment its vital air to air refueling capabilities, after the first two tenders got cancelled over pricing issues.
In these earlier bids, Airbus A330 MRTT emerged as the lowest L-1 bidder, beating the Russian Ilyushin IL-78M tanker already operated by the Air Force.
But this time, IAF has sort to prioritize lower operating costs which will give twin engine aircraft like the Airbus A330 MRTT an edge over the four engined IL-78M.
For the first time, Boeing is also expected to bid, offering the multi-mission KC-46 tanker being developed for U.S. Air Force. The aircraft is based on the commercial twin engined Boeing 767 platform.
Another possible contestant is Israeli Aerospace Industries, which operates a dedicated tanker conversion unit, carrying out conversion of used Boeing 767s into multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft.
These aircraft in addition to primary mission of aerial refueling can also configured to transport 200 passengers or 60 ton of cargo, and are 10-20 % cheaper than other alternatives.
Meanwhile Russia has commenced flight testing an upgraded version of the IL-78 tanker featuring new engines and glass cockpit, which could now bring the aircraft back into the Indian competition, with its improved performance and lower operating cost.
|British Royal Air Force A330 MRTT Voyager refueling a Eurofighter and a Tornado combat jet|
IAF's current six IL-78 MKI tankers acquired in 2003-04 are mainly intended to support operations against Pakistan, while the new acquisitions will support operations against China.
The fleet is dogged with maintenance, reliability and obsolescence issues, as on board equipment and avionics are 1985 vintage.
Also being powered by the four outdated fuel guzzling D-30K turbojet engines, the MKIs are costly to operate, compared to turbofan engine powered analogues.
A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that at any point, half the fleet were not available for missions.
The Israeli aerial refueling pods fitted on the aircraft were also found to be prone to frequent failures and have insufficient repair facilities and maintenance support.