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India looks to lease mid-air refueller from French Air Force for training, more could follow

IAF's refueller fleet currently comprises six Russian IIyushin-78 tankers, first inducted in 2003, which are facing maintenance and serviceability issues.

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New Delhi: India is in talks with France to lease one A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) from the French Air Force for training purposes under a government-to-government deal, ThePrint has learnt, and more could follow.

According to sources in the defence and security establishment, the single aircraft would be procured under “wet leasing”, which means that French personnel will provide training and maintenance along with it.

The development comes at a time when the Indian Air Force (IAF) is facing a critical capability gap in refuelling aircraft mid-air, which gives a fighter enhanced distance covering operation and allows them to fly for a longer duration without having to land to refuel.

Once the IAF personnel get trained, sources said, the force could lease four to five more aircraft from the European firm Airbus, which manufactures the A330 MRTT.

India’s refueller fleet currently comprises six Russian IIyushin-78 tankers, first inducted in 2003, which are facing maintenance and serviceability issues.


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IAF to only lease and not buy mid-air refuellers

To meet the gap in its refueller capabilities, the IAF was looking at both Airbus’ A330 MRTT and the KC-46 tanker, manufactured by the American firm Boeing. It had sought quotes from both the firms.

However, as reported in January, the IAF sought leasing quotes for two mid-air refuellers from Airbus while only one from Boeing.

This had led to speculation that the IAF was considering leasing the mid-air refuellers first, before purchasing up to six aircraft.

However, it has now been learnt that the IAF has decided to only lease refuellers rather than buy them. The leasing period will be for 10 years.

Furthermore, as reported by ThePrint in February, Airbus has emerged as the frontrunner for the IAF’s leasing contract.

According to sources, the MRTT also figured during the talks held by Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal K.S. Bhadauria during his visit to France earlier this month.

They added that the Airbus lease offer comes through a British company — Air Tanker — which has leased tankers to the Royal Air Force of the UK since 2008.

The Narendra Modi government had last October allowed the armed forces to procure military equipment on lease under the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020.

(Edited by Rachel John)


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