Monday, October 19, 2009

Finance Ministry opposes IAF choice for refuelling aircraft

Manu Pubby

The Indian Air Force’s plan to acquire six new refuelling aircraft to give its fighters extended reach has hit a roadblock with the Finance Ministry questioning the selection of the European Airbus 330 MRTT aircraft that costs almost twice as much as its Russian built competitor. While two aircraft—the Airbus 330 MRTT and the Russian IL 78—had taken part in the global tender taken out in 2006 to provide six refuellers, the Air Force had recently selected the European platform after technical trials. This, despite the fact that India already has a fleet of six IL 78 tankers ordered from Uzbekistan in 2002.

However, the Finance Ministry is said to have objected to the selection as the Airbus 330 MRTT deal would cost upwards of Rs 8,000 crore against the estimated budget of Rs 5,000 crore set by the Defence Ministry. On the other hand, the fleet of Russian built IL-78 would cost only Rs 4,800 crore.

The Finance Ministry has pointed out that India already has a fleet of the IL 78 refuellers, making it easier to induct a larger number of the aircraft. Financial advisers have also pointed out that the IL-78 fleet currently in service with the Air Force is relatively new as the last aircraft was inducted as late as 2004. This, analysts say, rules out the argument that a modernised platform is needed by the Air Force.

The Air Force, on the other hand, is fed up of constant delays in spare parts as well as quality issues with Russian built aircraft. The Russian aircraft, officers say, also did not meet all requirements set in the tender. Senior officials have pointed out that not only does the Airbus aircraft have a larger range but also the ability to carry extra fuel along with a passenger or cargo load.

While the IAF is very keen on acquiring refueling aircraft at the earliest given the threat environment and the need to deploy fighters on extended missions, the Finance Ministry’s objection is likely to delay the final signing of the contract.


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