The Indian Air Force has issued tender for purchase at least six midair refuelers that could cost over $2 billion, after two failed attempts to induct new tankers.
This will be the third tender for tankers in the last 10 years, with the previous two failing to end up as contracts due to price complications. Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) and Ilyushin's Il-78 had competed in the past two tenders.
The IAF on Thursday issued a Request for Information (RFI) for procuring "six flight refueler aircraft (FRA) along with its associated equipment for the IAF to meet air to air refueling requirements", Economic Times reports citing the RFI's description.
The report says that the FRA being looked at by the IAF will be a twin-crew aircraft. "It can also be second hand aircraft, provided they have 40 years of life and adequate flying hours," explained sources.
The IAF currently has six IL-78 aircraft which were procured during 2003-2004 at a cost of about Rs 132 crore per aircraft, which are used primarily for air to air refuelling, but they are plagued by maintenance problems.
According to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, tabled in Parliament last year, due to non-availability of hangars, the air assets remained in the open, which adversely affected their serviceability and life. Servicing and maintenance activities also had to be carried out in the open tarmac area, which resulted in delays due to weather conditions. The audit also found poor availability of spares, which affected the serviceability of the aircraft.
The report also stated that the serviceability of the aerial refuelling pods (ARPs) was poor, due to the limitation in repair of pods at the air base and poor maintenance support from the Original Equipment Manufacturer. The ARPs are hoses which connect the IL-78 fuel tank with the fuel tank of the receiving aircraft.
Furthermore, the report states that the IL-78s were due for overhaul in 2018-19 and during this process it is proposed to upgrade their engines, which will enable them to take off from shorter runways. However, the report said that the upgradation will take several years, meanwhile air to air capability of the IL-78 fleet will remain constrained.
The report concluded that, "Air to Air refuelling is a crucial capability both during combat as well as peacetime operations. IL-78 aircraft are dedicated for this purpose. However, due to inadequate infrastructure and support facilities the air to air refuelling capability was hampered".