Boeing enters tanker race with FMS offer

Issue No. 24 | December 16-31, 2016By Ranjit KumarPhoto(s): By Boeing
KC-46 refuels F-16
KC-46 Pegasus refuels C-17 Globemaster III

Boeing has entered the fray for supplying air refuelling tankers for the Indian Air Force (IAF). After ignoring the first two previous tenders, Boeing’s Pegasus tankers will compete with the European Airbus A330 MRTT and Russian Ilyushin IL-78. The IAF was almost losing the hope for inducting a fresh batch of tankers in its service in the near future, as the government was dilly-dallying IAF’s strategic requirements for urgently increasing its air refuelling capacity. The first and last major acquisition of the air refuellers was in 2006 from Russia. Probably the IAF was not satisfied with the serviceability of the eight IL-78 aircraft because of maintenance issues. Hence, the IAF decided to induct Western versions of the tankers. On the demand of the IAF, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) twice issued global request for proposals (RFPs), but cost issues raised by the Finance Ministry led to the cancellation of the tenders.

Senior Boeing officials said in Seattle during a recent visit to its facilities in the US, that since they have just come out with the new tankers, which are to be supplied to the US Air Force, they are offering the latest KC-46A Pegasus to the IAF. However, Boeing does not want to directly compete with the Russians and the Europeans. Boeing officials said in Seattle that they would like to supply the tankers to the IAF under the foreign military sales (FMS) programme of the Department of Defense and the Department of State. After the US Air Force decided to replace the KC-135 Stratotankers, which served them for many decades, the Boeing decided to develop the Pegasus. The Boeing has 65 years of building refuellers, KC-135, which are based on the Boeing 707 platform. However, the KC-46 is a multi-role tanker based on 767 heritage. Boeing officials claim that 767 model is approximately 30 per cent more fuel-efficient and its unit operating costs are more than 20 per cent lower than the KC-135, which are going to be replaced. The US Air Force has already ordered to supply 179 combat ready KC-46 tankers. The US Air Force awarded the contract to Boeing in 2011 and the first 18 aircraft will be delivered to the US Air Force by early 2018. Japan is the first international customer, which has ordered three KC-46 aircraft.

The KC-46 has third-generation system with seven different cameras. It has 2,12,299 pounds fuel storage capacity, and can offload 1,200 gallons per minute fuel to receptor aircraft. It can simultaneously refuel two fighter aircraft and can refuel 64 different types of aircraft. It has multi-point refuelling system. It has rapid loading capacity and can be reconfigured to any mission. The aircraft can be utilised in cargo and aeromedIcal evacuation role. It can also be converted in troop carrier role in a conflict situation. The aircraft is equipped with digital fly by wire control system. It has quick start capability equipped with two Pratt & Whitney engines. But can actually fly on one engine. Unlike other refuellers KC-46 is not equipped with chaff and flares facility because it has infrared countermeasure system, which can protect the aircraft from missiles. Sources in the Indian Defence Ministry said that Boeing Pegasus will have to be competitive in price with other main contender Airbus A330 MRTT. The Finance Ministry of the previous UPA Government had rejected the MoD proposal to acquire Airbus A330 MRTT mainly due to high price factor. The mega deal if any can mature only during the next Donald Trump administration, which will add to the Boeing family of C-17 Globemasters and P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft supplied to the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy.