IAF’S MEDIUM TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT CONTEST: AIRBUS PITCHES A-400M TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT

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In response to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Request for Information (RFI) for a Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) with a carrying capacity of 18 to 30 tonnes, aircraft manufacturer Airbus has proposed the A-400M transport aircraft. The RFI launched in December 2022 has two additional competitors, the Lockheed Martin C-130 and Embraer C-390, and the application date has been extended to March 31. The MTA could replace the bigger IL-76 as well as the considerably smaller AN-32s now in service.

“Yes, we have provided the A-400 in response to the RFI. It increases value. In comparison to its rivals, the A-400 has a payload capacity and range that are both doubled. It is bigger than the others [in competition],” said Jean-Brice Dumont, head of Military Air Systems at Airbus, earlier this week while addressing a small group of Indian media who were visiting from abroad. He described the pitch as “showing how we bring value.”

The competition is in the RFI stage, according to Venkat Katkuri, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space in India, and they have informed the IAF of their intentions. In response to inquiries about a potential “Make in India” component of the transaction along the lines of the C-295 cargo aircraft, Mr. Katkuri stated that they were open to it and that they would industrialise the A400 if the numbers were viable.

The RFI states that deliveries of the platform are expected to start 36 months after the contract is signed, but it does not specify how many MTA are needed. Instead, vendors are asked to provide a rough estimate of the cost of aircraft and related equipment for batches of 40, 60, and 80 aircraft, respectively.

Airbus is promoting the A-400M as a replacement for the outdated fleets of C-160, C-130, and IL-76 aircraft. The A-400M has a maximum cargo capacity of 37 tonnes. With an order book that extends to 2030, it has 178 orders from 10 different nations. The A-400M, which can fly up to a maximum height of 40,000 feet and can carry huge and large payload over longer distances, was promoted by Airbus executives as a “game-changer” for the IAF.

In a thorough presentation, Roberto Martinez, Airbus’ A400M marketing manager, said that the A-400M can transport mission-critical equipment to short, dirt airstrips where IL-76 and C-17 cannot operate.

The C-390 can carry up to 26 tonnes, compared to the C-130’s maximum carrying capacity of around 20 tonnes.

The C-295MW, 56 of which have just been contracted, is comparable to the AN-32 in terms of cargo carrying capacity, and several IAF officials have previously stated that it would be taken into consideration as a possible replacement for the AN-32 given that a running assembly line would be available once the 56 aircraft are delivered. However, because the C-295 falls under the 5–10 tonnes category and the RFI’s weight carrying capacity ranges from 18 to 30 tonnes, it is no longer appropriate.

Given the altered requirements and conditions, this is an opportunity to swap out the AN-32s for an aircraft with a better carrying capacity, according to a defence source. The Indian Army is currently planning to purchase a light tank with a maximum weight of 25 tonnes in preparation for the 2020 standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. Officials said that the MTA might be used to transport the light tank.

The Hindu has stated that an earlier effort to jointly co-develop and construct an MTA of 20 tonnes with Russia to replace the AN-32s was shelved after initial design negotiations.

The workhorses of the IAF, the 100 AN-32s, have all just undergone upgrades thanks to a $400 million contract struck with Ukraine in 2009. Some of them underwent avionics and engine lifespan upgrades in Ukraine ten years ago, while several more are undergoing upgrades at an IAF repair facility in Kanpur.

In order to replace the Avro aircraft currently in service with the IAF, the Defence Ministry signed a contract worth 21.935 crores in September with Airbus and Space S.A., Spain, for the purchase of 56 C-295MW transport planes. This contract is being carried out in collaboration with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), and as part of it, a ‘Final Assembly Line’ is being established in Vadodara, Gujarat.

The IAF’s transport fleet also includes IL-76 heavy transport planes and IL-78 mi-air refuelling tankers from Russia, as well as 12 C-130J Super Hercules and 11 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift planes from the United States. These planes join the AN-32s and Avro aircraft.

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