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​Delhi hopes to be third time lucky with new tanker RFI

India’s ministry of defence has issued a fresh request for information for six mid-air refueling tankers, following two abortive earlier attempts.

This time the requirement specifies that the tanker aircraft be powered by two turbofan engines, ruling out the Ilyushin IL-78.

Concerns about high acquisition costs derailed earlier attempts to procure an airborne tanker. As a result the latest RFI includes the option of procuring a suitable used aircraft, which can be modified for the tanker role.

Airbus Defence and Space, the winner of two earlier competitions with its A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), says it is aware of the new RFI, and will “examine the requirement”.

Boeing, which did not participate in the two earlier competitions, is in the fray this time around.

“We received an RFI from India for aerial refueling tankers and have briefed the Indian air force about the KC-46’s capabilities,” says Boeing India president Pratyush Kumar.

Given that the RFI says that converted jet is possible, IAI Bedek is likely to offer its Boeing 767 multi mission tanker transport (MMTT) conversion.

Despite the release of a fresh RFI, a procurement decision could be years away. Twelve years have passed since the original tanker procurement tender was issued in 2006.

The air force presently operates a fleet of six IL-78s that entered service between 2003 and 2004 and are due to enter major overhaul starting this year. The IL-78 fleet suffers from poor serviceability rates (49% in the 2016 financial year) as sourcing of spares from Russia and the Ukraine for the aircraft has proved troublesome.

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