European aerospace and defense giant Airbus is offering a new variant of its A-330 tanker to the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The company has upgraded the Airbus A-330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) model, with a new green aircraft configuration, which has new structural packs, aerodynamic packs, new Power-8 computers with new displays and avionics pack.
There is also a line-up of military modifications which includes an upgrades to the Mission System, MPS, Boom Upgrade 3, Boom Visual System, IFF M5/ADS-B besides an improved industrialization process.
Antonio Caramazana, Vice President and Head of Military Derivatives Programs at Airbus Defence & Space said during a media visit to the the company’s facility at Getafe in Spain, “All of these upgrades will be available to all the new customers,” ‘including India’.
He said the prototype for this latest variant, known as the A-330 MRTT Enhanced, would start conversion around October 2015 with flight tests beginning July 2016.
The new variant would likely be ready for delivery by late 2017, said Caramazana. He said they would configure all future aircraft to the ‘Enhanced’ variant, saying it was ‘cheaper to have one version’. Caramazana also said there would no significant difference in cost, as there would be only a single variant line.
“The internal cost is something that we are working with. The point for India initially is – the aircraft is the basic aircraft and as we are evolving the aircraft, it will be for us cheaper to continue having one version rather than two versions. So we will be moving on with the new configuration and all of them will be with the new configuration and the cost is not efficient to have two lines. Airbus will stop producing the current configuration. So all the aircraft that Airbus will deliver from April-May next year – all of them with the new (configuration), so all the future aircraft will be enhanced,” said Caramazana.
Since the IAF’s MRTT aircraft will have FRUs (Fuselage Refueling Units) instead of a Boom, those upgrades would obviously not apply to Indian aircraft. However, the IFF (Identification Friend and Foe) upgrade will make it compliant with civilian regulations, something which is mandatory by the year 2019, and also subject to licensing approval by the US government.
But Airbus continues its wait for the Indian Air Force (IAF) order for six A-330 MRTT aircraft.
The aircraft was selected by the IAF after a competition with the Russian IL-78. The IAF already operates six of the Russian aircraft. The tender was held twice, because the finance ministry raised questions about the costs of the IAF selection of the Airbus aircraft, the first time in 2010.
The IAF selected the A-330 again in 2013, after taking Life Cycle Cost into consideration but the defense ministry has not taken the order process forward since and Airbus officials say they’ve been waiting for word from them.
Caramazana said, “We were expecting the contract by the end of last year – beginning of this year – before the elections. We did achieve the L1 grade. We did the flight test trial also in India in 2012. We were renegotiating with the air force the contract and the contract is already fully negotiated and pre-signed by us. We were waiting for the final political step. The air force is very keen in getting the A-330 MRTT in contract – they are very keen in getting a new modern, western aircraft to be able to do air transport and refueling operations in India.”
They also say they’re hoping the new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will provide new impetus to the acquisition. Airbus representatives also told StratPost that the president of the company met with Modi before the elections.
Caramazana added, “The aircraft is the right solution for the air force. The selection was already done a year and a half ago. And the contract is already full negotiated and should be coming with the new political government – to have it cleared with the new political government.”
Caramazana also clarified that the IAF has selected the Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines to power their MRTT aircraft. Airbus had provided the IAF a choice of two engines, with the other being the GE CF-6 engine. Rolls Royce was in the news in India recently when a controversy broke out over their alleged use of a commission agent.
The newly reorganized Airbus Defence & Space is also participating in a contest to replace 56 Avro aircraft of the IAF with its C-295 aircraft.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece quoted Antonio Caramazana as saying, “And our new president (of) Airbus has already met the new prime minister – the new elected prime minister right after the elections and there is a sense of positiveness in terms of getting the A-330 MRTT in contract. So we are hopeful on that.”
Airbus representatives have since clarified that Mr. Caramazana spoke in error and that the meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi took place before and not after the elections.
The writer visited Airbus Defence & Space facilities at Getafe and Sevilla in Spain at the invitation of Airbus for their annual Trade Media Briefing.