Bengaluru: Airbus’ A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft has emerged as the frontrunner to the Indian Air Force’s plans to get mid-air refuellers on lease to meet their critical shortage, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the IAF is looking at a 10-year lease period with the European aerospace major.
They added that the frontrunner for the lease is the MRTT and not Boeing’s KC-46 tanker.
India’s refueller fleet currently comprises six Russian IIyushin-78 tankers, first inducted in 2003, which are facing maintenance and serviceability issues.
Last month, ThePrint had reported that the IAF had sought financial quotes from both Airbus and Boeing.
This had led to speculation that India could end up leasing three tankers and will go in for a large order of six refuellers based on the experience of using them.
However, sources indicated that Boeing was approached primarily to understand the pricing mechanism.
Second major leasing of defence system
This will be the second major leasing of a defence system by the Indian armed forces since November last year, when the Navy leased two Sea Guardian drones — unarmed versions of the deadly Predator series — from US firm General Atomics.
Incidentally, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had flown in an MRTT last month during the joint air exercise between India and France held in Rajasthan.
According to sources, the Airbus lease offer comes through a British company — Air Tanker — which has also leased the tankers to the Royal Air Force of the UK.
The Royal Air Force has been taking the MRTT on lease since 2008. The company had, in 2008, signed a 27-year contract with the UK’s defence ministry to deliver and support 14 MRTT aircraft.
According to the company, nine of these aircraft form a ‘core fleet’ for the RAF. The five ‘non-core’ aircraft are available to the RAF and can also be made available to other parties.
The French have also offered six A330 MRTT aircraft to the IAF on a government-to-government basis.
The Narendra Modi government has allowed the armed forces to procure military equipment on lease, under the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.
A source had then said leasing significantly brings the cost down and also does away with life cycle cost.