India picks A330 tanker – again

Airbus Military earlier this week confirmed what lndian media reports had suggested late last year – that its A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) has been selected by the nation’s air force for the second time.

Pitted against the Ilyushin Il-78MK, seven of which are already flown by the Indian air force, the modified A330 (Airbus Military-produced graphic below) had previously won selection, before a budgetary oversight committee blocked the deal. We won’t know a value for the new buy until a contract is signed later this year, but it will be interesting to see whether the delay actually results in New Delhi getting a better price for its future tanker fleet at all.

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Closing the Indian sale is important for Airbus Military, as it hasn’t sold an A330 MRTT since Saudi Arabia upped its order from three to six examples in mid 2009. If concluded, the latest buy will up its total order book to 34, with a deal to provide 14 to the French air force also anticipated. Additional buyers are needed though, if the type is to challenge the numerical supremacy of Boeing’s 767-based KC-46A. That’s now being quietly developed for the US Air Force, for a paltry 179-unit requirement.

It was hard to find much good news about the A330 MRTT during 2012, with Australia having dug its heels in over the specification of its refuelling boom system until the year came to an end, and red faces at Airbus Military after the boom separated from another customer’s aircraft during a pre-acceptance flight trial.

At least India’s aircraft, like the UK’s Voyager variant, will be equipped only with “more straightforward” underwing hose and drogue refuelling pods (that expression doesn’t necessarily reflect the UK’s trials experience with the type) and a centreline hose drum unit. Now all they have to do is sign the contract…
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