Russia is set to lose a billion dollar (Rs 48,000 crore) defence deal for midair refuellers, signalling a break in its over 50-year-old monopoly as India’s preferred military supplier.
The former communist giant has clearly lost favour with the Indian military, as the air force has decided not to field any more Russian Ilyushin-78 refuellers to keep fighter jets airborne for considerably longer periods by tanking them up during flight.
After operating Il-78 tankers for almost six years, the Indian Air Force has said the Russian platform does not meet its requirements and it wants to deploy the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) offered by European aerospace corporation EADS.
The Il-78 and Airbus 330 MRTT were competing for the $1 billion global tender floated three years ago by the defence ministry for six midair refuellers to extend the operating radiuses of Indian fighter jets.
In an exclusive interview to HT, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said, “We have finished all evaluations and selected the A330 MRTT. The deal will come up for final approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) very soon. The Russian platform did not meet certain requirements.” The A330 MRTT is a military derivative of the Airbus A330 airliner.
Cracks in the India-Russia defence relationship have existed for some time now. Some of the irritants include Russia seeking mid-course price revisions in contracts for Sukhoi-30 fighters and aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, a problem of steady supply of spares, poor vendor support after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and transfer of technology issues.
The air chief, who retires on May 31 on turning 62, said, “After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has changed the whole pattern of doing defence business. Now we are faced with issues concerning spares, vendor support and built-in delays in the structure of their centralised military corporations.”
Two years ago, Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had publicly said that India needed to take a relook at its military relationship with Russia, much to the government’s discomfort. The armed forces maintain that Russian equipment comes cheap but entails huge maintenance costs.
The A330 MRTT has won several tanker competitions with contracts signed by the governments of United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The first A330 MRTT would be delivered to the IAF within three years of signing of the deal while the remaining five would be inducted 15 months after that.