French mid-air refuellers could boost Air Force
The defence ministry is considering a French proposal to acquire six Airbus 330 multi-role transport tanker (MRTT) aircraft on a government-to- government basis for expanding the strike capability of the Indian Air Force (IAF) by purchasing the latest mid-air refuelers.
The IAF now operate seven Russian IL-76 M refuellers with Pakistan acquiring four of the same refuellers from Ukraine and China operating three of the same Russian refuellers along with 10 vintage modified versions of Russian bombers.
According to officials at South Block , while the IAF wanted to get an Airbus 330 MRTT on wet lease from a British company, the French proposal involves selling six 5-7-year-old aircraft to the IAF with a certification of another 30 years of platform life at a much reduced price.
The IAF has been eager to acquire an MRTT over the past decade, with the previous request for proposal (RFP) expiring without any results.
According to a former Indian Air Force chief who didn’t want to be named, the Airbus 330 MRTT platform has much larger wings of the Airbus 340m as a result of which the aircraft can refuel two fighters mid-air at the same time through drogues (attached to wing pods) or a central refuelling boom system.
The best part about the Airbus aircraft is that it can transport 260 personnel in cabin and fuel in the cargo hold due to highly efficient and high-powered engines. The MRTT can be turned into purely a tanker or transport or air ambulance or all three at the same time with a total crew of three.
Mid-air refuellers are a key to expanding the operational envelop of the IAF and Indian Navy carrier-based fighters by extending their range. According to the former IAF chief cited above, a mid-air refueller can be used to extend the flight of a Su-30 MKI or Rafale flying from Port Blair all the way up to Sunda, Lombard and Malacca Straits for freedom of navigation missions.
“ The French proposal is a win-win for IAF as the international market for aerial platforms is down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The aircraft does not guzzle fuel and has high-power engines to operate from high altitude air bases in Ladakh like Leh, Thoise and Nyoma and at the same time transport troops or conduct medical evacuation if required,” said a senior IAF official, requesting anonymity.