Airbus has presented its A-400M transport aircraft as a potential solution in response to the Indian Air Force’s Request For Information (RFI) for a Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) with a carrying capacity ranging from 18 to 30 tonnes. The RFI, issued in December 2022, had its submission deadline extended till March 31, and the competition includes two other contenders, the Lockheed Martin C-130 and Embraer C-390. The MTA aims to replace the smaller AN-32s currently in service and could also be a viable replacement for the larger IL-76 aircraft. The RFI outlines the requirement to commence aircraft deliveries within 36 months of contract signing, but it does not specify the exact number of MTAs needed. Vendors have been asked to provide cost estimates for batches of 40, 60, and 80 aircraft, respectively.
Venkat Katkuri, head of Airbus Defence and Space in India, confirmed that Airbus has conveyed its intent to participate in the MTA competition to the Indian Air Force. Responding to queries about a potential ‘Make in India’ component, similar to the C-295 transport aircraft deal, Mr. Katkuri stated that Airbus is open to such arrangements and would consider industrializing the A-400 if the conditions and numbers prove feasible.
Jean-Brice Dumont, the head of Military Air Systems at Airbus, expressed confidence in their submission, highlighting that the A-400 offers significant advantages compared to its competitors. Dumont emphasized the aircraft’s larger payload capacity and extended operational range, which could prove to be a game-changer for the Indian Air Force.
Airbus is positioning the A-400M, capable of carrying up to 37 tonnes of payload, as a suitable replacement for the aging fleets of C-160, C-130, and IL-76 aircraft. With 178 orders from 10 countries and an order book stretching to 2030, Airbus highlights the proven track record and versatility of the A-400M. The Indian Air Force had previously considered the C-295MW as a potential AN-32 replacement due to its similar cargo capacity. However, with the specific load carrying capacity specified in the current RFI (18 to 30 tonnes), the C-295 no longer meets the requirements. This presents an opportunity for the Indian Air Force to replace AN-32s with an aircraft of higher carrying capacity, which aligns with the current changed requirements and circumstances, as indicated by defense sources. Additionally, the MTA could be considered for carrying the newly sought-after light tank with a maximum weight of 25 tonnes.
The previous joint co-development project with Russia for a 20-tonne MTA, intended to replace the AN-32s, was shelved after initial design discussions. Currently, the Indian Air Force operates around 100 AN-32s, essential workhorses for the force, recently upgraded under a $400-million deal signed with Ukraine in 2009. In September, the Defense Ministry signed a contract with Airbus and Space S.A., Spain, worth ?21,935 crores, for the procurement of 56 C-295MW transport aircraft to replace the Avro aircraft in service with the IAF. This contract is being executed in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), and a ‘Final Assembly Line’ is being established in Vadodara, Gujarat, as part of the agreement. The Indian Air Force’s transport fleet also includes IL-76 heavy transport aircraft and IL-78 mid-air refueling tankers from Russia, as well as 12 C-130J Super Hercules and 11 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift aircraft from the United States.