IAF Chief In France As India Looks To Decide Between Boeing’s KC-46 & Airbus A330 Mid-Air Refuellers

Indian Air Force  (IAF) chief who is in France on a five-day visit, will discuss the possibility of leasing mid-air refuellers. Boeing’s KC-46 tanker and the Airbus A330 MRTT are strong contenders, according to reports.

The IAF chief will also flag off the next batch of Dassault Rafales for their eight-hour journey from France to India.

The new Rafales are likely to be refueled mid-air by the friendly UAE Air Force’s Airbus A330 MRTT tanker. The possibility of a brief stoppage at Al-Dhafra airbase, like the previous occasion, cannot be ruled out either.

New Delhi had received the last shipment of Rafales on March 29. The new batch, which may comprise 3-4 fighters, will also land at Ambala Air Force Station in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

They would join IAF’s Golden Arrows squadron, taking the number of Rafales in service up to 18.

The Indian Air Force Chief would also be holding high-level meetings and discussions with top officials in France. The visit comes after Gen. Philippe Lavigne, Chief of Staff, French Air and Space Force (FASF) visited India in February 2020.

Mid-Air Refuellers – Boeing’s KC-46 & Airbus A330 

“During his meetings in Paris, the Air Chief will also be talking about the mid-air refuellers for the IAF.

The IAF has been looking at both the US-based Boeing Company’s KC-46 tanker, a derivative of the Boeing 767 passenger aircraft, and the Airbus A330 MRTT (multi-role tanker transport) aircraft,” The Financial Express quoted a source as saying.

The plan is to lease these aerial refuellers which are a critical “force multiplier” for most air operations, it reported. The Indian government lauded the high cooperation and warm relations between both air forces in the recent past.

“The two Air Forces have seen significant operational interaction in the recent past. IAF and FASF engage in the bilateral air exercise series ‘Garuda’, as well as hop exercises, the last being Ex Desert Knight 21 held at Air Force Station Jodhpur in January 2021.

IAF and FASF also participated in Exersice Desert Flag hosted by UAE Air Force along with other friendly countries in March 2021,” India’s Defense Ministry said in a press release.

Earlier as EurAsian Times reported, a senior defense official had stated, “the leasing will be based on hours of availability per year indicating the minimum and maximum hours required.”

Sources from South Block told HindustanTimes that the IAF wanted to get an Airbus 330 MRTT on wet lease from a British company, while the French offered about selling six of such second-hand aircraft (which have done 5-7 years of service) for a much-reduced rate with a 30-year lifespan certification.

Defense experts had earlier criticized the reported move by India to purchase (not lease) six Airbus mid-air refuelers from France, dubbing the exercise a “waste of money”.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies told The EurAsian Times,  “It’s a complete waste of money in my opinion.”  India can’t do the kind of long-range power projection with an A330 the way America does, he maintained.

However, Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired), a former fighter pilot told the EurAsian Times that India has been looking for these refuellers for a long time and two attempts had been made by the IAF, but they were unsuccessful. India does have urgent requirements, he asserted.