India wants to acquire 6 tanker planes…. again !

India is today the largest importer of defense systems in the world, with more than $17 billion in equipment purchases in 2018 from Russia, the United States and France, to name but a few. the main ones. It is also, according to a widely shared opinion, the most complex market. To realize this, it is enough to observe the duration of acquisition programs, and especially the number of programs launched, then canceled, to be relaunched after a while. This is the case of the MMRCA program which was to enable the acquisition of 114 Rafale, followed by an order for 36 aircraft and by the MMRCA II program, or the FGFA program, which saw India withdraw from the Su-57 related program in 2018, to display new interest in the device at the MAKS2019 show.

This is also the case for the program aimed at acquiring 6 tanker aircraft to replace the IAF's Il-78s, the availability of which fails to exceed 49%. Initially launched in 2007, this program has already been retaliated against and abandoned twice, and is therefore seen exhumed a third time by the new Minister of Defense, Rajnath Singh, who has given himself the mission of simplify and accelerate acquisition procedures and the Indian technocratic mille-feuille. An Acceptance of Neccessity procedure will soon be launched and must be accepted by the Defense Acquisition Council, before being able to launch a consultation with foreign manufacturers, for a program estimated at $2 billion.

For the 3 competing manufacturers, the American Boeing with the KC46A, the Russian Iliouchine with the IL-78, and the European Airbus DS with the A330 MRTT, this will therefore be the third competition for the same market. But today, the 3 aircraft can all be evaluated based on their real capabilities, and not assumed or promised by the manufacturer, with a clear advantage for the A330 MRTT in terms of reliability and performance, while the KC46A fails to resolve many critical issues, and that the Il-78 does not offer the versatility of the European aircraft.

An Air Force A330 MRTT accompanied by a Rafale B of a mirage 2000 5 and a mirage 2000D Defense News | Tanker Aircraft | Military aircraft construction
Through its versatility, performance and reliability, the A330 MRTT has serious advantages in the new competition to replace the Indian Il-78s.

While it has a fighter fleet of nearly 600 aircraft, India only uses 15 refueling aircraft, 6 Il-78s and 3 heavy Il-76s, 3 ERJ 145s and 3 light Gulfstream IVs, one fleet which appears very limited by Western standards. Thus, France intends to acquire 18 A330 MRTTs for a fleet of less than 250 fighter planes, and the US Air Force is using 470 KC-135 and KC-10 heavy tanker aircraft for 2400 fighter planes and bombers. Certainly, India has very few ambitions for power projection today, an area which requires a significant number of Refuelers. But maintaining a simultaneously reinforced operational posture against China and Pakistan, particularly in the area of ​​the air component of deterrence, risks quickly requiring an increase in this fleet. Therefore, the competition which is looming carries with it a potential much greater than the only 6 devices which it aims to acquire.

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