Recent reports emerged that the Indian government cancelled the much coveted deal for 6 Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) aircraft. While the news sending shocks in the already struggling Indian Air Force.
The the Indian Air Force first acquired mid-air refueling tanker aircraft from TAPA (Tashkent Aviation Production Association) in 2001 the same t. The six Il-78 were bought for an estimated price of $50 million each. The tankers before being converted and stripped was Il-76 aircraft assembled in Uzbekistan. The aircraft were stripped, repaired and refurbished and then fitted with avionics and systems,sub-systems along with Israeli refueling systems after that it went through two months of rigorous tests and training. Finally the first Gajraj (Named by the Indian Air Force) made it’s public appearance on 8th October, 2003 during the Air Force Parade.
Later in 2013 the Indian Air Force decided to expand the reach of it’s multi-role fighters by inducting at least six more MRTT aircraft or something of comparable standard. A RFP was issued and two companies responded. The Airbus with it’s A330 MRTT and the TAPA with it’s IL-78 MRTT. After exhaustive calculations and meeting it was decided that the A330 MRTT would be selected with a price tag of $2 billion for six aircraft along with life cycle costs. Although the initial purchase would be expensive but it would go easy on the pockets of the government on a long term when compared to it’s Russian Counterpart.
After the news broke out that the Indian government has decided to cancel the tender due to the issues with Airbus regarding the Airbus scam that took place in the 1990’s. The former government envisaged a plan to acquire six more tankers and place them in the Eastern part of India specifically Panagarh in West Bengal so, In case of an outbreak of conflict with China the Tankers can assist the Indian Air Force aircraft to increase their legs allowing them to stay longer in the air and carry out deeper attacks. Although new reports have started emerging that the Indian government would soon sign a deal with Russia for the sale of 6 Il-78 MKI aircraft with upgraded engines and systems and the aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force would be upgraded to the latest standard.
Although if the Airbus M330 aircraft would have been acquired it would’ve given the Indian Air Force in the region with advanced technology when compared to other tanker aircraft in the region. Yes,it would’ve added to the already logistical nightmare faced by the Indian Air Force due to it’s acquisition policy of having the best of both worlds namely the Russian and the West. But, since we are facing a dilemma here the IL-78 is not a bad option. The Pilot training and service infrastructure is already present with Russia now being more frank with giving the license to build spares and important parts to the Indian government which it was an still is an issue. In a similar way the Indian Air Force can look at IL-79MD-90A heavy transport aircraft for strategic airlift purposes since the production line of the C-17 Globemaster has closed down and the decision to purchase more aircraft came a tad bit late.