India orders European Airbus in mega mid-air refueling aircraft deal

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After having lost out to the US in the race to supply “attack” and “heavy-lift” helicopters to India, Russia has now been upstaged in yet another mega defence deal. India has selected the European Airbus-330 MRTT over the Russian Ilyushin-78 mid-air refueling aircraft in an Rs 8,500-crore contract.
Defence ministry sources on Thursday said the European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS) “is now being called for the final commercial negotiations” for acquisition of six Airbus-330 MRTT tankers.
“The actual contract will be inked in the 2013-14 financial year since commercial negotiations with EADS will take some time. Moreover, there has been a massive cut (Rs 10,000 crore) in the defence capital budget for the ongoing fiscal,” said a source.
Both the four-engine IL-78 and the two-engine Airbus-330 had passed the extensive field evaluation trials conducted by IAF but the latter emerged the cheaper option in the subsequent commercial evaluation. “Though the two commercial bids were opened earlier, the final costing last week put the Airbus-330 as the L-1 (lowest bidder) on account of life-cycle costs,” Times of India said quoting a defence source.
IAF, which already operates six IL-78s since 2003-04, is looking to induct the six new tankers or “force-multipliers” from 2017 onwards to further enhance its “strategic reach” capabilities.
Despite the recent setbacks with countries like the US, France and Israel muscling into the lucrative Indian market, Russia will remain India’s largest arms supplier for the foreseeable future. The imminent inking of the final design contract for the joint development of the fifth-generation stealth fighter will further buttress Russia’s position. India will eventually end up spending around $35 billion on the project over the next two decades.
EADS touts its tanker as the fastest one in the business because it can transfer 4,600 litres per minute, greatly reducing the refueling operation time. The MRTT can also be used as a transport/cargo plane, capable as it is of carrying around 380 passengers or a 45-tonne payload.

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