The Indian Air Force (IAF) plans to lease one A330 MRTT tanker from France for training purposes and five more to act as aerial refuelers for their fighter jets, according to the Hindustan Times.
As it stands, the aerial refueling capacity of the IAF relies on six Ilyushin Il-78 tankers acquired in 2002. Two calls for tenders were launched in 2009 and 2016 to procure an aircraft capable of operating from high altitude bases, such as the one in the Ladakh region, bordering China. Both competitions won by the Airbus A330 MRTT. However, no contract ever concretized, and the IAF remains in need of refueling capacities.
To fill the capacity gap, the Indian authorities intend to start leasing an A330 MRTT from France for training purposes. Then, five more tankers should be leased to be used in operations.
“With IAF looking towards A330 refuellers for its future, it is only natural that its pilots are trained in advance to handle the aircraft as mid-air refueling is a precision process with zero margin of error and huge stakes,” an IAF official told the Hindustan Times.
In January 2021, pilots of the IAF were able to train with their French counterparts during the exercise Desert Knight 21. Along with four Dassault Rafale fighters and two Airbus A400M transport aircraft, the French Air Force also brought one A330 MRTT (Phénix) tanker for training purposes.
The A330 MRTT tankers of France and the United Arab Emirates air forces have been used to ferry the Dassault Rafale fighters from the final assembly line in Merignac, France, to Air Force Station Ambala in India. On April 21, 2021, the first squadron of 18 Rafales, the Squadron 17 “Golden Arrows”, was completed.