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India trains fighter pilots in buddy-buddy refuelling as aerial tanker shortage hits home

2nd May 2023 - 05:00 GMT | by Neelam Mathews in Delhi


One possible solution for India's tanker woes would be to lease an Airbus A330 MRTT from a provider such as the UK's AirTanker. (Photo: AirTanker)

Poor serviceability rates of India's Ilyushin Il-78 tanker aircraft mean fighter pilots are training using buddy-buddy refuelling between fast jets.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has released a request for proposals (RfP) to wet-lease an aerial tanker for training purposes as six of its Ilyushin Il-78 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft are too maintenance-intensive with poor serviceability. 

The accelerating need for fast jet pilots to maintain currency validation has left the IAF with little option but to carry out training with buddy refuelling pods from fighter to fighter.

As IAF squadron strength depletes, the MRTTs act as force multipliers. The IAF needs 18, with two failed attempts to acquire six tanker-transports in the past 15 years. 

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A six-year-old Comptroller and Auditor General of India report had noted serviceability of the Il-78 fleet to be 49% with barely three aircraft available simultaneously.

The leased MRTT will serve up to 100h per month for training purposes. The lessor will manage maintenance and insurance. 

Air-to-air refuelling (AAR) training will cover all Indian fighters including the Rafale, Su-30MKI, Jaguar, Mirage and Light Combat Aircraft.

'The present type of training is a very poor idea using flying hours of fighters. If a refueller was used for training many fighters could practise plug-ins. The leasing option is a saner one as it leaves the fighters to continue with their operations. The A330 is the best option as it carries a large amount of fuel,' a source told Shephard.

Of the three companies expected to bid, on contender is the UK's AirTanker which has a 27-year contract with the UK MoD. It supports 14 A330 MRTTs. Nine form a ‘core fleet’ and five ‘non-core’ aircraft are available to the RAF but can also be offered to others. 

The company is responsible for all aspects of Voyager’s operation from crew training and maintenance through to dispatch, which it will do for the IAF if selected.

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Neelam Mathews


Neelam Mathews

Neelam Mathews was born in India and completed her education in London.

She has written for …

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