Major international military exercises allow the participating militaries to raise their level of interoperability and share their respective areas of expertise. Sometimes it is also an opportunity to become familiar with one or more pieces of military equipment, which is especially useful when it is known that the partner is conducting consultations in this field. In other words, it is a double-edged sword. The French Air and Space Force sent out an A330 MRTT Phenix refuelling aircraft, five Rafale aircraft and 130 airmen as part of the Garuda 2022 exercise. This event occurred at the Indian air base in Jodhpur from October 26 to November 12, 2022.
The exercises conducted by the pilots and aircraft of the two air forces allowed for a deeper shared understanding of their respective procedures, as was the case during the previous six iterations held alternately in India and France. The Garuda 22 exercise highlighted the performance of the MRTT, capable of refuelling the Indian Rafale, Mirage 2000, and Jaguar of Western origin, the Su-30 MKI of Russian origin, and the indigenous Tejas Mk1. During the drills, 30 aircraft took part.
Every effort was made to convince New Delhi to purchase the European tanker. One of these efforts included transporting five Rafales from France to India in a repeat of the previous deliveries of Indian Rafales. This demonstrated the effectiveness of the synergies formed by the two pieces of equipment for power projection over great distances. The Phenix is a particularly versatile aircraft. It can perform the role of an in-flight refuelling tanker with a fuel payload capacity of 110 tonnes and a cargo transporter or even a medical transporter with a capacity evacuation of 130 stretchers. Furthermore, the Phenix can combine both capabilities, ensuring in-flight fighter refuelling and technical team transportation.
The twenty-first century saw the beginning of New Delhi’s process of updating its fleet of tanker aircraft. In 2009, EADS, which would later be rebranded as Airbus, overcame the Russian IL-78s to win the initial competition. However, the competition was cancelled due to funding issues and relaunched shortly after.
Airbus made its presence known in 2013 with the A330 MRTT, but the sale was never finalised, and the competition was cancelled in 2016; this time, the restructuring of India’s defence effort that followed Narendra Modi’s election as prime minister in 2014 was the cause.
New negotiations without a tender
In 2020, a new conversation was launched in place of a formal competition in response to the Indian Air Force’s insistence on fighting concurrently in the west against Pakistan and the northeast against China. This was done instead of holding a competition to discover who could build the most advanced aeroplane. Since then, France has escalated its efforts to persuade New Delhi of the performance of European aircraft that are already in service with ten air forces and have been picked twice by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in subsequent competitions. These efforts include aiding with novel business proposals like a lease option or converting a used A330-200 into an MRTT variant to save money.
Competition from IAI and HAL
In April, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the aircraft manufacturer in India’s defence sector, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Israeli Aviation Industries (IAI) to convert ‘Civil (Passenger) aircraft into Multi Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT) aircraft in India.
IAI responded to the pre-owned category of the RFI by presenting a refueler based on a converted B767-300ER commercial aircraft.
Similar to the present IAF’s No 78 Mid Air Refueling Squadron (MARS), the aircraft that IAI is anticipated to offer will feature three refuelling sites with two under-wing refuelling pods and a centerline host drum unit (HDU). In this system, each refueler may simultaneously refuel up to three aeroplanes. These aircraft can also use a single boom unit to accommodate refuelling receptacle-equipped aircraft (the standard aerial refuelling method for the US Air Force).
IAI provides its refuelling system, developed by the business over the past decade and is being utilised on multiple platforms, including the Colombian Air Force 767-2J6ER Jupiter. The Colombian tanker has successfully participated in multiple Red Flag exercises in the United States. It performed effective probe refuelling for F-18 aircraft of the Canadian Air Force and the United States Navy and Kfir C10 aircraft of the Colombian Air Force.
IAI asserts that the costs will be significantly less than a comparable alternative based on a “green” (new) aircraft with comparable performance and operating capabilities.
IAI utilises its expertise in air-to-air refuelling and cargo conversion to convert the B767 aircraft into a Multi-Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT). The aircraft is outfitted for air refuelling, cargo, VIP, passenger flights, and ISR operations.
The Airbus A330 factor
The Indian Air Force intends to convert the A330 MRTT into an AWACS aircraft. It lowers costs and guarantees the availability of Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO). When the A330 entered service, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which has received five MRTTs, realised that their C-17s were utilised less frequently. The availability of a multirole tanker capability could help additional missions. For example, the IAF employs two IL-76s when flying to Red Flag, whereas the same task may be accomplished with a single A330 MRTT.