Airbus pitches A-400M transport aircraft for IAF’s Medium Transport Aircraft contest

IAF has issued an initial tender for an MTA with a carrying capacity between 18 to 30 tonnes

July 23, 2023 05:17 am | Updated 08:51 am IST - SEVILLE (SPAIN)/ NEW DELHI

Airbus’ A-400M transport aircraft. Photo:

Airbus’ A-400M transport aircraft. Photo:

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has pitched its A-400M transport aircraft 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. The submission deadline for the RFI issued in December 2022 was extended till March 31, and it has two other contenders, the Lockheed Martin C-130 and Embraer C-390. The MTA is a potential replacement for the much smaller AN-32s in service, and could also replace the larger IL-76.

“Yes, we have responded to the RFI and offered the A-400. It is a value addition. The A-400 carries twice the payload to twice the range than the competitors. It is bigger than the others [in competition],” Jean-Brice Dumont, head of Military Air Systems, Airbus, said while speaking to a small group of visiting journalists from India, earlier this week. “It’s about showing how we bring value,” he said of the pitch.

Venkat Katkuri, head of Airbus Defence and Space in India said the contest is in the RFI stage and they had shared their intent with the IAF. To questions on a possible ‘Make in India’ component as part of the potential deal, on the lines of the C-295 transport aircraft, Mr. Katkuri said they were open to it, and to industrialising the A400, should the numbers be viable.

The RFI states that it is envisaged to commence deliveries of the platform within 36 months of the signing of the contract; the specific number of MTA required is not mentioned; vendors have been asked to provide a ‘Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) cost of aircraft and associated equipment’ for a batch of 40, 60, and 80 aircraft, respectively.

Airbus is pitching the A-400M, which can carry a maximum payload of 37 tonnes, as a replacement for the old fleets of C-160, C-130 and IL-76 aircraft. It has 178 orders from 10 countries, with the order book going up to 2030. Airbus officials pitched A-400M as a “game-changer” for the IAF, which can carry heavy and outsized loads over longer distances and can fly up to a maximum altitude of 40,000 feet.

The A-400M can deliver mission-critical equipment directly where they are most needed, onto short and unpaved airstrips where IL-76 and C-17 cannot operate, Roberto Martinez, Airbus’ A400M marketing manager said, while giving a detailed presentation.

The C-130 has a maximum carrying capacity close to 20 tonnes, while the C-390 can carry up to 26 tonnes.

In the past, several IAF officials had stated that the C-295MW, 56 of which have just been contracted, which falls in a similar category as the AN-32 in terms of cargo carrying capacity, would be considered as a potential replacement for the AN-32, given that a running assembly line would be available once the 56 aircraft are delivered. However, based on the load carrying capacity specified in the RFI (18 to 30 tonnes), the C-295 no longer fits the bill as it’s in the 5-10 tonnes category.

This is an opportunity to replace the AN-32s with an aircraft of higher carrying capacity, given the changed requirements and circumstances, a defence source said. In the backdrop of the 2020 stand-off in eastern Ladakh with China, the Indian Army is now looking to procure a light tank with a maximum weight of 25 tonnes. The MTA could potentially be considered to carry the light tank, officials indicated.

An earlier project to jointly co-develop and produce an MTA of 20 tonnes with Russia to replace the AN-32s was scrapped a few years ago after initial design discussions, as reported by The Hindu earlier.

The IAF operates around 100 AN-32s, which are the work horses of the force, and they have all been upgraded recently under a $400-million deal signed with Ukraine in 2009. Some of them were upgraded in Ukraine a decade ago to improve avionics and increase engine lifespan, while several others are being upgraded at an IAF repair facility in Kanpur.

In September, the Defence Ministry signed a ₹21,935 crore contract with Airbus and Space S.A., Spain for the procurement of 56 C-295MW transport aircraft to replace the Avro aircraft in service with the IAF, which it is executing in a partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and a ‘Final Assembly Line’ is being set up in Vadodara, Gujarat as part of the deal.

In addition to the AN-32s and Avro aircraft, the IAF’s transport fleet consists of the IL-76 heavy transport aircraft and IL-78 mi-air refuelling tankers from Russia; and 12 C-130J Super Hercules and 11 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift aircraft from the U.S.

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