Wednesday, January 19, 2011

India’s MMRCA trials help Russian aerial refueling tanker bid

Flight trials of the six contenders for India’s Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender have had an unusual side effect on the race to sell India aerial refueling aircraft. Asked to prove aerial refueling capability, the contenders, F-16, Gripen, Rafale, F/A 18, MiG-35 and Eurofighter have had no option but use the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s existing tanker, the Il-86 mid-air refueler to prove that their aircraft is capable of meeting IAF’s requirements as regarding aerial refuelling.

The Il-86 is a contender in India’s re-floated bid to buy fresh aerial refueling tankers. Fresh bids are due later this month and the besides the Il-86, the other likely contenders are the Airbus A-330 MRTT and the Boeing KC-X. The success of the MMRCA aerial refueling tests means that the IL-76 tanker will have a stronger case due to the fact that its capability has been proven on all the MMRCA bidders, one of which will be eventually selected.

In fact, the MMRCA contenders had to make major modifications to their aerial refueling systems to match the IL-76’s fuel pipe mating and locking systems to prove that the their aircraft can be refueled in mid-air.

Informed sources told that the Russian bid had “emerged stronger” after the MMRCA aerial refueling tests. The IL-86 had earlier been disqualified in favor of the Airbus A-330 MRTT but the Airbus bid was turned down following objections from the Indian finance ministry which found the aircraft “too expensive”. It is not known was the quoted price was.

Indian media quoting unnamed Airbus officials has reported that Airbus would be resubmitting its bid for the tanker contest. Boeing however has reportedly expressed that its bid would depend upon whether it wins the U.S. aerial tanker bid in which it is engaged in a bitter battle with the U.S. subsidiary of EADS which is fielding the A-330 MRTT.

Airbus’ tanker has been ordered by the U.A.E, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and Australian air forces while the Boeing KC-X was unveiled only in mid-2010 and the U.S. tanker contest is its first major bid.

The Il-86 has been an old workhorse for Russia, India and China.

At Aero India 2009, the Il-78 had made a demonstration refueling two aircraft simultaneously. It is quite likely that it may repeat this feat with the LCA Tejus at Aero India 2011.

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