The changing geopolitical landscape in Asia has prompted India to plan “a direct strategic purchase” of six Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) or tankers. New Delhi has made the decision mainly to enhance the reach of its fighter jets, bombers and surveillance aircraft.
According to sources close to the Indian Defence Ministry, the Narendra Modi government has prepared the plan as New Delhi’s bid to acquire six FRAs through global tenders failed twice in the last 10 years. The ministry also scrapped the proposed INR 90,000 million-contract for acquisition of six Airbus-330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) aircraft.
A senior Defence Ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, told the media: “Airbus was told towards end-June that the RFP (request for proposal or tender), under which the A-330 MRTT was selected as L-1 (lowest bidder), has been withdrawn. A decision has been taken for direct acquisition of FRA, a critical operational necessity for the Indian Air Force (IAF).” He said that the IAF urgently needs new aircraft and France is taking time to supply 36 Rafale fighter jets to India under a government-to-government deal announced during the Modi-Hollande summit in Paris in April 2015.
After inducting six Ilyushin-78 mid-air refuelling aircraft in 2003-04, the IAF asked the government to acquire six more tankers in 2006. Currently, the IL-78s are based at Agra to support operations against Pakistan. The six new tankers will be based at Panagarh in eastern Indian province of West Bengal to take care of China.
Meanwhile, India is also helping neighbouring countries in strengthening their defence capabilities. Reports suggest that India sells the bulk of its defence products in its neighbourhood. Since 2013-14, India’s Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and ordnance factories have exported products worth INR 30,000 million. However, this is only a fraction of what India spends or imports. It is interesting to note that countries in the neighbourhood, including Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal, are among the top buyers of Indian defence equipment.
As far as India’s defence exports are concerned, Mauritius has imported around 21% of defence equipment, worth INR 6,420 million, from India since 2013. Other countries, which imported defence equipment from India, are Sri Lanka (INR 5,670 million), Russia (INR 4,490 million), Myanmar (INR 4,180 million), Israel (INR 2,150 million) and Nepal (INR 1,370 million).