NEW DELHI — Airbus has been selected as the preferred vendor over Russia’s Ilyushin to supply six aerial tankers for the Indian Air Force in a $1 billion tender, according to Indian Defence Ministry officials.
After the commercial bids were opened earlier this month, the base price of the Russian Il-78 tanker was quoted as lower than that of the A330, but when factoring in maintenance and fuel costs, the Airbus was the better value, said a Defence Ministry official. The official refused to provide the exact quotes of the bids, and said the Russian government-owned company had not yet been officially informed about the decision.
Russian diplomats confirmed they had not been informed of the Airbus selection.
Boeing withdrew from the competition in 2010, leaving only the A330 and Il-78 in competition. The tender in 2010 also was sent to EADS, Lockheed Martin and Antonov of Ukraine. Antonov did not qualify, and Lockheed and Boeing did not participate.
The Indian Air Force is using six Il-78 midair refuelers bought from Uzbekistan and plans to buy 12 additional tankers, which includes the six from Airbus.
Defence Ministry sources said it is not yet decided if a fresh tender will be opened to buy the remaining six or if a repeat order will be given to the winner to the current competition.
The current tender is itself a rebid of a 2006 tender in which the A330 finished behind the Il-78 tanker, but the Indian Air Force preferred the European tanker. When the matter was sent to India’s Finance Ministry, it said the lowest bidder should be the winner. The controversy led to the cancellation of the tender.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony wrote the Indian Parliament on Dec. 14, 2009, that the Finance Ministry had expressed reservations about the competition.
“The procurement proposal had been progressed in accordance with the Defence Procurement Procedure — 2006 and thereafter referred to the Ministry of Finance who has expressed certain reservations relating to the competitiveness of the bids and the reasonableness of the price,” Antony wrote.
The Indian Air Force plans to deploy the tankers at Panagarh Air Base in the eastern state of West Bengal to help increase the range of its Su-30MKI fighter jets, which would enable the Indian aircraft to penetrate deeply into China, an Air Force official said.
In addition to lower fuel costs, the Airbus tanker is optimized for high-altitude cruise and fitted with advance avionics, the IAF official said.