European defence firm Airbus Military has once again tossed its hat in the ring for the Indian Air Force’s $ 1 billon (Rs 4,500 crore) contract for mid-air refuelling aircraft, a year after the tender was scrapped due to finance ministry objections. Aerial refuellers expand the operating radius of fighter jets by tanking them up during flight.
The Spain-based firm, part of European conglomerate EADS, was on the verge of clinching the two-cornered contest but finance ministry’s reservations over the steep price of the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) led to the cancellation of the contract. The A330 MRTT was locked in competition with the Russian IL-78 refuellers.
After operating IL-78 tankers for six years, the air force had made it clear that the Russian platform did not meet its requirements and it wanted to go in for the A330 MRTT. But the finance ministry’s doubts over ‘reasonableness of price and competitiveness of bids’ stacked the odds against Airbus.
Airbus Military’s head of market development Didier Vernet said the firm had responded to the defence ministry’s fresh request for proposal (global tender) for mid-air refuellers in early January. “We have tough competition but we have a better chance as the A330 MRTT has obtained military certification,” he said.
Vernet refused to comment on the cost advantage that the Russians would bring to the table with the IL-78. “The A330 MRTT is a new generation refueller, it cannot be compared with the IL-78” he said.
Russian equipment comes at a cheap upfront price, but questions have been raised about inflated life-cycle costs. Former IAF chief air chief marshal Fali Major said, “There is no doubt that the Airbus platform is far more expensive even if you factor in low life cycle costs, spare support and reliability. But the A330 MRTT scores on technology and that makes it worthwhile in the long run.” The defence ministry had floated a tender for six midair refuellers to achieve rapid global mobility four years ago.