Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria recently announced that an “earlier process” to select a new aerial refueling aircraft for the Indian Air Force will be retendered and new requests for information would be issued to potential bidders, thus continuing third such contest since 2006-2007. Indian Air Force inducted its first aerial refueling aircraft in 2003 since then it has maintained a fleet of only six IL-78 jets which are modified as aerial refuellers but have failed to acquire more aircraft to extend the range of its fighters such as the MiG-29, Su30MKI and Mirage 2000 in flight.

Twice A330 MRTT which is a derivative of the popular twin-engine A330 passenger jet was selected by IAF but the government had canceled the tender over cost concerns. While cheaper IL-78 jets are also on the offer, but IAF wants to move away from Russian aircraft due to a whole lot of issues and go for a passenger jet derivate mid-air refueller with a newer design, having lower operating costs to save money.

In Third RFI to be floated soon, It is expected that the third bidder will emerge and Boeing KC-46 Pegasus might be on offer to IAF for the first time. Military aerial refueling is based on Boeing 767 passenger jet which has been picked up by USAF and its NATO allies. Boeing KC-46 Pegasus will be cheaper than A330 MRTT since it is smaller aircraft and commercial cost for each jet varies as per capacity.
Many Defense analysts have urged IAF to pick up A330 from many distress airline companies which are willing to sell them and use Tanker Conversion Kit sold by many Aerospace companies to convert them into aerial refueling aircraft for the Indian Air Force, this not only will be cost-effective and cheaper but also save a lot of paperwork ad time in tendering process.

Recently, Leasing has been introduced in the draft Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)-2020 and the Indian Air Force (IAF) is considering, for the first time, leasing aerial refueling tankers due to budget pressure. Israel Aerospace Industries’ Bedek Aviation Group is also planning to offer IAF Boeing B737 Passenger to Mid-Air refueller Converted aircraft as the fourth contender.


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