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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is gearing up to plug its aerial refuelling gap with a temporary solution from France. In 2024, the IAF plans to finalize a wet lease agreement for one Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft from the French Air Force. This lease, with an extension option of three years, will provide much-needed aerial refuelling capabilities while the IAF pursues a long-term procurement plan for six additional tanker aircraft.

The French offer comes as a welcome respite for the IAF, which has been grappling with a deficit of tanker aircraft for some time. The A330 MRTT is a proven and versatile platform, capable of refueling a wide range of IAF fighter jets, including the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Rafale, and Jaguar. This enhanced refuelling capacity will significantly extend the range and operational flexibility of the IAF’s combat aircraft, allowing them to strike deeper into enemy territory and remain airborne for longer durations.

While the wet lease deal with France will provide immediate relief, the IAF is also looking towards a long-term solution. The plan is to procure six new FRAs, with HAL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) emerging as potential contenders. IAI, in particular, has presented a compelling proposal to convert pre-owned Boeing 767 passenger aircraft into Multi-Mission Tanker Transports (MMTTs) with additional cargo and transport capabilities.

This conversion option offers several advantages. Firstly, it utilizes readily available Boeing 767s, potentially reducing procurement costs and expediting delivery timelines. Secondly, the MMTT configuration provides the IAF with a versatile platform that can not only refuel its fighter jets but also serve as a cargo and troop transport aircraft, enhancing the IAF’s overall logistical capabilities.

This isn’t the first time IAI has offered its B767 conversion to India. Following the cancellation of the Airbus A330 MRTT program in 2016, IAI showcased its MMTT proposal at Aero India 2017. The IAF’s renewed interest in the B767 conversion option suggests that it may be a frontrunner in the upcoming procurement process.

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