IAF may buy twin-engine refueling jets for USD 1.5 billion

In a move that would help the Centre save money, it is now planning to buy only twin-engine aircraft as the next mid-air refueling planes for the Air Force for which even second-hand planes can be offered by vendors.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is once again moving ahead with its programme to augment its fleet of six Russian four-engine Ilyushin-78 planes which have proved to be force multipliers but are very expensive to operate. The requirement for only twin-engine aircraft by the IAF means that effectively the Russians are out of this deal as they don’t have a plane in this class.

The move to allow secondhand planes with 40 years of life left in them for operations is likely to help the government save almost Rs 3,000 crore at the procurement stage itself.

“The requirement for maintaining only two engines per aircraft against the existing four would also help the IAF and the government save more funds in the long run,” a senior government source told Mail Today here.

Under the new project, the IAF is looking to buy planes such as Boeing 737 or the Airbus 330 which can be modified into tanker planes and can replenish Air Force jets mid-air during exercises and operations to enhance their endurance.

“The IAF would be willing to accept modified planes, which may have been used for passenger operations but have 40 years of life left in airframe and engines to be offered to it for modification into tanker planes,” the source said.

Officials said the Force believes that the new project may also help it peg the budget of the programme between USD 1.5-1.7 billion (Rs 9,538-10,809 crore) instead of the over USD 2-2.3 billion (Rs 12,717-14,625 crore) being estimated earlier.

The IAF project was cancelled twice over the last decade due to cost and other issues. The formal tender or RFP (request for proposal) will be floated after the responses to the RFI are submitted by March 30.

After inducting six Russian origin Ilyushin-78 mid-air refuelling aircraft in 2003-2004, the IAF had first taken up the case for the acquisition of six additional tankers in 2006. The two-engine Airbus A-330 MRTT was twice selected over the four-engine Russian IL-78 in the technical and commercial evaluation.

The RFI specifies that the IAF wants twin-engine aircraft, with a two man crew to ensure fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs, say sources.

The first RFP for the refuelling aircraft issued in 2006 was scrapped in 2010 because the finance ministry expressed “reservations relating to the competitiveness of the bids and the reasonableness of the price” of the A-330 MRTT.

In the second RFP floated in 2010, both A-330 MRTT and IL-78 cleared the extensive field trials. In the commercial evaluation thereafter, even though the IL-78 was cheaper in the offthe-shelf price, the A-330 MRTT emerged as the L-1 under the new LCC system.

 

Source : India Today

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