Key suppliers in the niche air-to-air refueling segment are quietly preparing for a hoped-for Indian tanker competition.
Boeing, IAI, and Airbus Defence & Space all say recognize the need India has for tanking capability at this year’s show.
Airbus’s A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) has twice been selected for New Delhi’s tanker requirement. Unfortunately, both times the deal has fallen through, leaving the Air Force to soldier on with its Ilyushin Il-78 Midas tankers.
The last deal, for six aircraft, was cancelled in mid-2016 when the request for proposals was withdrawn, apparently owing to concerns about costs.
An Airbus spokesman says the European company is as committed as ever to meeting India’s tanker needs.
“We are ready to respond as and when necessary,” he says. “We don’t believe that it is the end of the story in regard to the IAF’s need for an efficient tanker.”
Boeing is also keen to pitch its 767-derived KC-46 should the Indian requirement reemerge. The US firm had a simulator of the air-to-air refueller’s operating station on its stand.
Pratyush Kumar, president of Boeing India, says that the KC-46 is suitable for Indian needs. He acknowledges that the Boeing aircraft missed the previous down select in 2013, but stresses that this time is different, with the KC-46 flying and set to enter USAF service in the coming years.
IAI, meanwhile, believes its 767-derived multi-mission tanker transport aircraft is a cost-effective, yet capable choice.
Speaking with FlightGlobal at the IAI stand, marketing & business development manager Sharon Katzer says that his firm can take a used 767 aircraft and upgrade it to a fully-capable military aircraft with zero hours.
“We have lots of experience with this capability through 707 tanker operations in Israel.”
He notes that IAI, which developed the Israeli air force’s 707 tanker capability, has been heavily involved with this customer’s use of the aircraft, including participation in debriefings.
Apart from military communications and countermeasures, IAA can install three hose-and-rogue reels, or a centre-line boom with two wing-mounted hose-and-drogue pods. The company has added tanker capability to several legacy types from the late 1960s.
The Ilyushin IL-78MK also competed in India’s last tanker competition.
Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that the Indian air force has seven Il-78Ms serving as tankers, with an average age of 14.1 years.