Russia knocked out of Rs 9,900-cr tanker contest

Rahul Singh

India, Jan. 14 -- The Europeans have edged out the Russians in a hotly contested contract worth $1.8 billion (Rs 9,900 crore) to equip the Indian Air Force with six mid-air refuellers. India has picked the European Airbus 330 MRTT over the Russian Ilyushin-78 mid-air refuelling aircraft, in yet another sign of India wanting to diversify its military purchases.

Mid-air refuellers keep fighter jets airborne for considerably longer periods by tanking them up during flight.

The air force has been operating the four-engine IL-78 tankers for nearly eight years, but it has now opted for the two-engine A330 MRTT, offered by European defence firm EADS.

As reported first by HT, the IAF had short-listed the European tanker in 2009, but the deal fell through after the finance ministry raised some objections over the price.

However, the A330 MRTT has again won the new tender floated in 2010 as it emerged the cheaper option taking into account the life-cycle costs. Russian equipment comes at a cheap upfront price but entails huge maintenance costs.

Antonio Caramazana, head of Airbus Military Derivatives, said the A330 had far lower maintenance and operational costs compared to the Russian platform, one of the factors that swung the deal in favour of EADS.

"It can carry more fuel, passengers and cargo than the Russian platform and consumes less fuel," he said at the Getafe air base where the commercial A330 airliner is converted into a military tanker.

He added that the Russian tanker did not have the same maintenance support as the Airbus platform. "In the next five years, there will be close to 2,000 A330 commercial airliners flying in the skies. That translates into global spares and maintenance support for the IAF," Caramazana said.

(The writer was in Spain at the invitation of Airbus Military)

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.