Monday, April 18, 2011

India moves at a snail's pace on the MRTT

Neelam Mathews
April 18, 2011
Time: 6:45PM IST

Even as the first Airbus Military A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) for the United Arab Emirates Air Force has completed its maiden flight and the first of three ordered by the UAE Air Force will be transferred to Abu Dhabi around the end of the year for the final phase of flight-testing and delivery in the second quarter of 2012, India’s bid for its own MRTT, continues to remain in limbo.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) for six tankers has been released twice over the past four years. In pursuit of the around $2 billion IAF tanker program, two main competitors have emerged – the Ilyushin Il-78s and the Airbus A330 MRTT- the re-trials for which are yet to be announced. 

One wonders at the stoicism and perseverance of these companies that are willing to spend millions of dollars on bids and the indecisiveness of the Indian government that will ultimately result in India paying for higher procurement costs.

Last year, the Ministry of Defense cancelled an ongoing contract for tankers after the Finance Ministry raised objections to the high price of the Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft that had been selected for the IAF requirement. The competition to acquire an IAF tanker capability is now to be re-opened and once again Airbus will find themselves competing against Ilyushin for the six-tanker order.

The IAF says it urgently needs an improved tanker to add of its existing tanker ing fleet of Ilyushin Il-78MKI tankers.

Meanwhile, the Airbus Military A330 MRTT Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft for the Royal Air Force has arrived in the UK for the first time. The aircraft, one of two now flying following conversion at Airbus Military’s Madrid facilities, is at RAF Boscombe Down in a move marking the beginning of the UK phase of test activities before delivery of the first aircraft. 

The first aircraft of 14 on order will be delivered towards the end of the year for operation from RAF Brize Norton by the AirTanker consortium on behalf of the Ministry of Defense. The remaining 12 aircraft will be converted by Cobham in the UK with continuing engineering support from Airbus Military, says EADS.

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