Spoke to some senior officers in the IAF on January 15 at the Army Chief's reception at Army House, and it seems fairly clear that the IAF is inclined towards the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT)
as its follow-on fleet of mid-air refuelling tanker. The IAF seems mighty impressed with the fuel capacity and "logistical agility" of the platform compared with the Ilyushin-78M
that the IAF currently uses. In fact, the IAF is completely smitten with the idea of a tanker that has optimum fuel capacity and still does not interfere with the space in the main cargo deck -- which means the A330 can refuel, deliver men and equipment in a single compound sortie, giving logistical planners a huge amount of operational planning flexibility. It's still early days though.
If anyone thought it would have been sensible to simply buy three more Ilyushins to add to the three already flying with 78 Squadron in Agra -- and thereby abstain from disturbing inventory problems -- the IAF is convinced that adding a new aircraft to even a specific inventory like in-flight refuelling would be viable if the technology and operational value-adds it brought outweighed the savings of inventory economy. The IAF is also apparently mighty impressed with the fact that the A330 (teamed with Northrop Grumman, designated KC-45
) won the US Air Force's 179 new refueller contest -- a solicitation that has since been cancelled, following Boeing's protest. But the point hit home. A company considered an enemy to American industry in the old days managed to convince the USAF that its tanker was better than old faithful Boeing's 767. That alone has endeared the plane to customer around the world.
It would be interesting to see if Boeing jumped into the fray as well. Except we here ain't buying anything close to 179 aircraft, so it may not be half as exciting.
Oh, and from the horse's mouth (though this happened a couple of days ago!), the Phalcon hasn't arrived yet. And neither has the Gripen been eliminated in the MMRCA tech-eval "downselect". As a matter of fact, all six contenders have apparently made the grade and moved onto the next phase -- flight evaluation.
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