More Options for Flight Refueling Aircraft for the IAF

Issue: Aero India 2021 Special
IAI is offering a Multi-Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT) based on a B767-300ER commercial aircraft to the Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has set a goal to replace its aging aerial refueling assets with at least six FRA tankers. This is the third time the IAF plans to convert this fleet, which operates six IL-78M FRA operated by IAF’s No 78 Mid Air Refueling Squadron (MARS) since 2003.

The IAF has long felt the need to add more FRAs to meet the operational requirements. Since 2006 Request for Proposals (RFP) have been floated on two different occasions and canceled due to their high cost. In a Request For Information (RFI) released in 2018, the IAF expressed interest in acquiring new FRAs, indicating their preference of using twin-engine aircraft and optional use of pre-owned aircraft as cost-cutting measures. The IAF expects that using such aircraft will provide a life span of at least forty (40) years.

IAI addresses the RFI’s pre-owned category, offering an FRA based on a B767-300ER commercial aircraft converted into FRA.

Like the current MARS, the aircraft IAI is likely to offer will have three refueling points utilising two under-wing refueling pods and a centerline host drum unit (HDU). In this configuration, each FRA can refuel up to three aircraft simultaneously. These aircraft also have an option to use a single boom unit, supporting aircraft which are equipped with refueling receptacles (the standard aerial refueling method for the US Air Force).

IAI offers its own refueling system which was developed by the company in the last decade and now used on several platforms, including the Colombian Air Force 767-2J6ER Jupiter. The Colombian tanker has been successfully deployed to several Red Flag exercises in the USA. It performed probe refueling effectively for F-18 aircraft of the Canadian Air Force and the US Navy and Kfir C10 of the Colombian Air Force.

IAI claims that the costs will be much lower than an alternative based on a ‘green’ (new) aircraft with similar performance and operational capabilities.

IAI draws on its experience in air-to-air refueling and cargo conversion to develop and convert the B767 Aircraft into a Multi-Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT). The aircraft is configured to support air refueling, cargo, VIP, passenger flights, and ISR missions.

The refueling system uses a three-point drogue system with two refueling pods and a third centerline host drum unit. Unlike other refueling systems that rely on aircraft power for their operation, these pods use an independent Ram-Air Turbine (RAT) to power the refueling system.

As an option, the aircraft can be converted to full cargo configuration under an existing approved Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the 767-300 special freighter. As part of the conversion, IAI provides a modern glass cockpit, and an option of fresh from shop engines. The aircraft can be configured to carry 200 troops or 60 tons of cargo when required. The cargo conversion includes the integration of a special cargo door and built-in cargo pallet with capabilities that can also take additional fuel for the FRA mission. To date, IAI has converted more than 250 passenger aircraft of different types into special freighters and special mission aircraft. This fleet has demonstrated an unbeatable safety record and high utilisation rates.

As high acquisition costs brought previous FRA tenders to a halt, India’s Defence Procurement Procedure 2020 Act is considering the leasing of RFA for the IAF, a process that will speed up acquisition and utilise such assets at a lower cost. Leasing plans enable customers to operate the aircraft with their own aircrews or obtain refueling missions as a service. The main benefit of both plans is the large savings associated with logistical infrastructure, modernisation, and support over the life cycle of the program. At the end of the leasing periods, a customer can buy the assets or replace them with new ones.

Besides the cost advantage, the MMTT offers long term and affordable supply of spare parts and certified maintenance services based on the large operational fleet of B767 aircraft in India and worldwide.

IAI has more than 40 years of experience in Air-to-Air refueling (AAR) solutions, having converted, modified dozens of aircraft to AAR for more than 12 customers worldwide, including the Indian and Israeli Air Forces. Aligned with the Indian government’s “Make in India” initiative, IAI has established subsidiaries and partnerships throughout India, to support the company’s programs and access the local supply chain.