India considering purchase of Russian transport aircraft worth $2bn

An IL-78 (R) refuels Sukhoi SU 30 MKI fighters during a full dress rehearsal for India's Air Force Day in New Delhi © Kamal kishore
New Delhi is in talks with Moscow to acquire a number of Russian-made Ilyushin transport aircraft for its Air Force; Izvestia daily reported citing its sources. The total value of the contract could be as much as $2 billion.

The mid-air refueling aircraft would enhance the operational capabilities of the Su-30 fighter jets specially developed for India by Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau.

The Indian Air Force is already equipped with Russian-built IL-78 mid-air refuelers.

“For the first time Russia has offered New Delhi its IL-78MD-90A, which is a modernized version of the Il-76MD-90A military transport, also known as the IL-476," the unnamed source told Izvestia.

Negotiations with Russia follow India’s decision not to buy six Airbus 330 MRTT (multi-role tanker transport) due to the high cost. Airbus won the delivery tender in 2015, but last week the Indian government withdrew the tender.

“The main reason for the cancellation of the tender is the very high life-cycle cost which was not calculated properly in the beginning,” the Financial Express cited the government’s letter to Airbus.

The six aircraft would have added to the existing fleet of an equal number of Russian IL-78s acquired by India in the 2000s.

If the Russian-Indian talks succeed, it will be the first contract to supply the Il-78MD-90A. The new aerial refueler aircraft is a modernized version of an IL-76 transporter.  It has a modified wing, new engines and control system, a higher load capacity and volume of transported fuel.

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The tanker aircraft can carry up to 110 tons of fuel and refuel a jet from the rear and from its wings. Three aircraft may be refueled in the air simultaneously. The modular air fuel system allows the tanker to be easily converted into a conventional transport aircraft.

The new Il-78MD-90A aircraft will be tested in 2017, and only after that it could be sold to customers, said a source in the aviation industry.