Air Transportation: Political Correctness Can Make You Rich


August 19, 2016: Back in 2006 the Indian Air Force decided to buy six Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) rather than six Russian IL-78 aerial tankers. The Indian air force is still trying to make the purchase happen. Twice the MRTT was declared the low bidder and technically superior to the competition. Yet in July 2016 that purchase was, for the second time, refused. The official reason was that the A330 would be too complex and expensive to operate. The air force does not agree with this assessment, nor do the growing number (eight countries so far) of other nations using MRTT.

The Indian military procurement is notorious for its unpredictability, indecisiveness and sluggishness. There are also political factors and fear of corruption (or at least corruption that will get publicized). Ironically there is less political opposition to inferior Russian weapons and equipment in part because the Russians are much less likely to expose corruption (for exported military gear) than Western nations. The Indian Air Force really wants the MRTT and is equally reluctant to buy anymore Russian IL-78 tankers. But these are apparently more politically acceptable than the air force favorite.

The Indian Air Force has been using six IL-78s since 2003, but felt the MRTT was a better value. India has been souring on Russian military equipment since the 1990s, and this was another example why. Poor reliability and maintenance support, as well as unpredictable pricing has led India to depend increasingly on the West for military gear.

The Airbus MRTT is based on the twin engine Airbus 330-300, which normally sells for $160 million each. The 233 ton MRTT carries 111 tons of fuel, plus 43 tons of cargo (26 pallets). The MRTT can also carry 238 passengers, because the main deck is not occupied with fuel containers (as is the case with the IL-78). All the fuel is carried in the wing and tail tanks. This makes the MRTT much more flexible, and capable of moving lots of cargo or troops, as needed.

The four engine, 220 ton IL-78 is not convertible (to carry freight), and only carries fuel (138 tons). India will buy the MRTTs for about $250 million each, with delivery beginning in three years once the government approves.


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