The Indian Air Force appears to be facing a mid-air refuelling crisis and its plans to induct modern tankers to expand the strategic reach of its fighters haven’t yet taken off.
The IAF’s runways are too short for its Ilyushin-78 tanker fleet, their refuelling pods are dogged by failures and the airworthiness is questionable, a comprehensive audit of the Russian-origin fleet has revealed.
In a scathing report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) also found that there aren’t enough hangars for the refuellers, tanking them up on the ground is a problem and dedicated refuelling corridors are missing. The IAF operates six IL-78 planes bought in 2003-04 at Rs 132 crore a piece. The IAF is yet to float a new tender for six mid-air refuellers costing upwards of $2 billion.
An IL-78 requires a runway length of 11,480 feet to 15,022 feet to carry full fuel loads. A decade ago, the IAF identified 10 airfields for mid-air refuelling where infrastructure was to be created, including extended runways, to fully exploit the platform.