Following the news that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) signed a MoU with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to convert civil aircraft to Multi Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT) for the Indian armed forces;
Tushar M, Defence Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:
“The new aerial refuellers to be developed and procured under the joint HAL-IAI MMTT program will complement the six ageing Il-78 MKI of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Presently, the IAF is facing a significant capability gap when it comes to mid-air refuelling aircraft. After the acquisition of the Il-78 MKI in 2003-04, the IAF had initiated multiple aerial refueller procurement projects, all of which failed to fructify. To enhance the surveillance and monitoring of India’s large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), key sea lines of communication, and island territories, mid-air refuelling is vital for extending the range and overall mission time of aerial assets.
“As the MMTT project focuses on the conversion of existing aircraft, there will be a significant reduction in the development and production timelines that will enable the IAF to rapidly increase the number of mid-air refuelling aircraft. The addition of MMTT will also increase the strike range of combat aircraft in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
“The MMTT aircraft are expected to feature Israeli-made fuel transfer systems, like the ones installed on the in-service Il-78 MKI. The standardization of the aerial refuelling systems across different platforms will also help the IAF to reduce operational costs, achieve economies of scale, and develop the relevant support infrastructure to ensure higher availability of aerial refuelling aircraft.
“The aircraft may be equipped with removable fuel tanks, which will enable the users to deploy the same platform for conventional transport roles. The converted MMTT is anticipated to be approximately 40% cheaper than new aerial refuelling aircraft, with no significant gap in performance and capacity.
“Considering IAI’s expertise with B767 conversion to MMTT, it may now be the preferred platform by the IAF instead of the earlier A330. Both the aircraft offer superior capabilities in comparison to the existing Il-78 MKI and will augment the IAF’s aerial refuelling fleet. However, the implementation of the project will require HAL and IAI to obtain approval from the aircraft OEM for modification.
“Apart from bolstering the ‘Make in India’ campaign, the program also offers strategic diversification opportunity to HAL and will utilize its decades-long aircraft manufacturing, assembly, and MRO expertise for developing critical subsystems and integration capabilities. This is also the first time an aerial refuelling aircraft is being designed and manufactured within India. After induction in the IAF, IAI and HAL may also jointly pitch the MMTT for the lucrative export market.”