India is set to launch a fresh hunt for midair refuellers to expand strategic reach of its air force after two failed attempts to induct new tankers.

The Indian Air Force will soon float a tender for at least six midair refuellers that could cost upwards of $2 billion, an air marshal familiar with the development said.

The IAF’s Russian-origin Ilyushin-78 tanker fleet is plagued by maintenance problems and more refuellers are required to stay prepared to counter China in the eastern sector, the three-star officer said.

This will be the third tender for tankers in the last 10 years, with the previous two failing to end up as contracts due to price complications. Ilyushin’s Il-78 and Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) offered by European aerospace corporation EADS competed for the previous tenders. The scope of the competition will be bigger this time.

A four-cornered contest is in the offing with American, Russian, European and Israeli military contractors eyeing the lucrative deal.

“We look forward to taking part in the competition with our KC-46A multi-role tanker and have had various levels of discussions with the IAF. We are following it closely,” said Robert D Schoeffling, senior manager (global sales and marketing), Boeing Military Aircraft.

The US Air Force awarded Boeing a $2.1-billion order for 15 KC-46A tanker aircraft, spare engines and wing air refueling pod kits in January, following a previous order for 19 planes last August. The KC-46A is a Boeing 767-based refueling aircraft. Boeing will build 179 KC-46 tankers for the USAF by 2027.

Israel will also be a new entrant to the competition. Israel Aerospace Industries’ Bedek Aviation Group has firmed up plans to take part in the contest with its Boeing 767-200 multi-mission tanker transport (MMTT).

Bedek’s marketing and business development manager Sharon Katzir said the Israeli firm was in talks with the IAF and would compete for the order.

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