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November 16, 2016

Boeing in fray for Indian Air Force's tanker contest


The Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) withdrawal of a tender earlier this year for the $2 billion purchase of six multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft has set the stage for the entry of Boeing into this contest. The American company had not responded to two earlier tenders, since it did not have a suitable aircraft to field. Now, having developed a brand new MRTT for the US Air Force (USAF), Boeing is poised to compete with Airbus and Ilyushin, the two vendors who have vied for the IAF order for a decade. An earlier IAF tender, floated in 2006, attracted bids from Airbus, Spain, which offered a modified Airbus 330-200 aircraft; and from Russia’s Ilyushin, which offered the Ilyushin-78 tanker — six of which were already in the IAF since 2003-04. Yet, despite successive IAF chief’s emphasising the urgency of buying tankers quickly, that tender was withdrawn in 2010.
A second tender, issued by the IAF soon after, was withdrawn in May. The reason for withdrawal was a conflict between “procurement cost” and “life cycle cost”.
The Russian tanker was cheaper to buy; but the Spanish tanker worked out cheaper when life cycle costs were evaluated — considering not just the acquisition cost, but also the cost of operation, maintenance and spare parts over a service life of 30-40 years. Tankers are valuable force multipliers for air forces that operate combat aircraft for long distances. Mid-air refuelling almost doubles the capability of fighters. Refuelling them mid-mission saves a trip back to base, and a landing and takeoff. At Everett, outside Seattle, USA, where Boeing builds commercial airliners in the world’s largest building — a hangar one kilometre long and half a kilometre wide — the first few KC-46A Pegasus tankers are being built on the airframe of the long-haul Boeing 767-200 airliner.
The USAF has already ordered 179 KC-46A, and that order would increase incrementally to 400 or so, as the USAF’s vintage KC-135 — built on the Boeing 707 airframe and already over half a century old — are progressively retired. In contrast, the Airbus 330 MRTT has just 51 tankers on order. Boeing believes its economy of scale would create an unbeatable cost advantage. Says Glenn Hanbey, the Pegasus marketing head: “The KC-46A is not just a civil airliner that can carry extra fuel. It has been developed as a military aircraft, to the demanding specifications of the USAF.” Hanbey is referring to the Airbus 330 MRTT, which carries more fuel than the KC-46A Pegasus — 111 tonnes, as against 96 tonnes — but which remains in many respects a civilian airliner that retains commercial-style seating inside for 291 passengers. In contrast, the KC-46A Pegasus has military style “palletised” seating that can be quickly bolted on for up to 160 passengers. In a medical evacuation role, it can carry 54 stretchers with patients, along with on-board emergency oxygen.
To permit large cargo loads, the Pegasus has giant side doors, the size of those on the C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. A key feature of the KC-46A is its tanker-specific avionics, with the twin-pilot cockpit fitted with state-of-the-art displays developed for the 787 Dreamliner. In accordance with USAF demands, the “boom operator”, who operates the attachment that protrudes from the tail of the Pegasus and pumps fuel at 1,200 gallons per minute into the aircraft being refuelled, has a three-dimensional view of the operation from seven cameras that look to the rear. The pilots too view the operation, allowing them to position their tanker aircraft suitably.
For now, the Airbus 330 MRTT enjoys a first-mover advantage, having already logged orders from the air forces of Australia (seven tankers), United Kingdom (14) France (nine), Saudi Arabia (seven), The Netherlands (two), Singapore (six), South Korea (four) and UAE (three). But Pratyush Kumar, Boeing’s chief in India argues: “Those orders were placed when the KC-46A hadn’t entered service. Now, it provides India an additional option — one that consumes 30 per cent less fuel, is 20 per cent cheaper to operate, and that is derived from an aircraft with a dispatch reliability rate of 99.7 per cent.”

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The Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) withdrawal of a tender earlier this year for the $2 billion purchase of six multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft has set the stage for the entry of Boeing into this contest. The American company had not responded to two earlier tenders, since it did not have a suitable aircraft to field. Now, having developed a brand new MRTT for the US Air Force (USAF), Boeing is poised to compete with Airbus and Ilyushin, the two vendors who have vied for the IAF order for a decade. An earlier IAF tender, floated in 2006, attracted bids from Airbus, Spain, which offered a modified Airbus 330-200 aircraft; and from Russia’s Ilyushin, which offered the Ilyushin-78 tanker — six of which were already in the IAF since 2003-04. Yet, despite successive IAF chief’s emphasising the urgency of buying tankers quickly, that tender was withdrawn in 2010. A second tender, issued by the IAF soon after, was withdrawn in May. The reason for withdrawal was a conflict between “procurement cost” and “life cycle cost”. The Russian tanker was cheaper to buy; but the Spanish tanker worked out cheaper when life cycle costs were evaluated — considering not just the acquisition cost, but also the cost of operation, maintenance and spare parts over a service life of 30-40 years. Tankers are valuable force multipliers for air forces that operate combat aircraft for long distances. Mid-air refuelling almost doubles the capability of fighters. Refuelling them mid-mission saves a trip back to base, and a landing and takeoff. At Everett, outside Seattle, USA, where Boeing builds commercial airliners in the world’s largest building — a hangar one kilometre long and half a kilometre wide — the first few KC-46A Pegasus tankers are being built on the airframe of the long-haul Boeing 767-200 airliner. The USAF has already ordered 179 KC-46A, and that order would increase incrementally to 400 or so, as the USAF’s vintage KC-135 — built on the Boeing 707 airframe and already over half a century old — are progressively retired. In contrast, the Airbus 330 MRTT has just 51 tankers on order. Boeing believes its economy of scale would create an unbeatable cost advantage. Says Glenn Hanbey, the Pegasus marketing head: “The KC-46A is not just a civil airliner that can carry extra fuel. It has been developed as a military aircraft, to the demanding specifications of the USAF.” Hanbey is referring to the Airbus 330 MRTT, which carries more fuel than the KC-46A Pegasus — 111 tonnes, as against 96 tonnes — but which remains in many respects a civilian airliner that retains commercial-style seating inside for 291 passengers. In contrast, the KC-46A Pegasus has military style “palletised” seating that can be quickly bolted on for up to 160 passengers. In a medical evacuation role, it can carry 54 stretchers with patients, along with on-board emergency oxygen. To permit large cargo loads, the Pegasus has giant side doors, the size of those on the C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane. A key feature of the KC-46A is its tanker-specific avionics, with the twin-pilot cockpit fitted with state-of-the-art displays developed for the 787 Dreamliner. In accordance with USAF demands, the “boom operator”, who operates the attachment that protrudes from the tail of the Pegasus and pumps fuel at 1,200 gallons per minute into the aircraft being refuelled, has a three-dimensional view of the operation from seven cameras that look to the rear. The pilots too view the operation, allowing them to position their tanker aircraft suitably. For now, the Airbus 330 MRTT enjoys a first-mover advantage, having already logged orders from the air forces of Australia (seven tankers), United Kingdom (14) France (nine), Saudi Arabia (seven), The Netherlands (two), Singapore (six), South Korea (four) and UAE (three). But Pratyush Kumar, Boeing’s chief in India argues: “Those orders were placed when the KC-46A hadn’t entered service. Now, it provides India an additional option — one that consumes 30 per cent less fuel, is 20 per cent cheaper to operate, and that is derived from an aircraft with a dispatch reliability rate of 99.7 per cent.”

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