List Of Air-to-Air Refuelling Aircrafts of Indian Armed Forces

Indian Air Force is the fourth largest and most professionally acclaimed strategic Air Force in the world and operates around 33 squadrons. With around 1,70,000 personnel and 1,500 aircraft, it is behind The U.S., Russian, and Chinese Air Forces. To function with full potential the IAF comprises various types of aircraft. Among them is the Air to Air refueler. Let us know about the IAF mid-air refueled.

What is Air-to-Air Refuelling?

Aerial refuelling, or refuelling in the air, is the process of pumping fuel from a tanker aircraft to another aircraft. The aircraft must fly in formation according to the procedures.

How does Refuelling works?

The receiver pilot must place a retractable probe within the basket or drogue once the hose has extended to its maximum length. The plane’s nose is where the retractable probe is installed. The probe needs to be softly moved by the engineer and the receiver pilot in order for it to latch onto the basket.

Also read: All About IAF IL-78 MKI: Modified IL-76 Refuelling Aircraft

The Ilyushin IL-78

The four-engine Ilyushin IL-78 air-to-air refuelling tanker plane is primarily used for in-flight refuelling. Its design and development were inspired by the IL-76, which was its forerunner. It is referred to as Midas in NATO reports. On June 26, 1983, the IL-78 took to the skies for the first time. The following year, it entered service. Internationally, 53 aircraft are currently in operation.

Several IL-78 airborne refuelling tanker models

The five IL-78 variants are IL-78T, IL-78M, IL-78ME, IL-78MKI, and IL-78MP. In order to transport all cargo handling equipment and convertible cargo, a new model of the IL-78 called the IL-78T is used.

Deliveries and orders

The Indian Air Force (IAF) ordered six IL-78s in 2003. The first refuelling aircraft equipped with Israeli-made aerial refuelling pods were delivered to the IAF in March 2003. The IL-78 may carry a total of 110,000kg of fuel. The deliveries to the IAF were completed in 2004. Currently, the aircraft is based at the Indian Air Force Base in Agra.


The primary method of air-fuel transfer is carried out by a user sitting at the flight engineer’s station in the cockpit, who operates the UPAZ-1A (Il-78) or UPAZ-1M (Il-78M) refuelling devices placed on the outer wings and rear fuselage. To facilitate speedy refuelling, homing radar is mounted in the receiver’s aircraft behind a sizable, flat, backward-facing radome.

Wing-tip hose and drogue air refuelling pods are installed on the IL-78. The receiving aircraft’s probe touches a hose that is reeled out and trailing from the tanker as it approaches the tanker. The IL-78 has a wing-tip hose and drogue air refuelling pods added. From the tanker, a hose that is reeled out and trailing makes contact with the receiving probe of the other aircraft.

Also read: Why IAF IL-76 MD Is Also Known As ‘Gajraj’


Above the refueling systems is the cargo deck, which has room for six crew members and up to 138,000 kg of cargo.

Efficacy of IL-78

The IL-78’s top flight speed is 850 km/h. The aircraft has a 7,300-kilometer range and a service ceiling of 12,000 meters. The aircraft, which weighs roughly 72,000 kg, can carry up to 210,000 kg upon takeoff.

Observation and Aspects of the future

Unfortunately, there have been serious maintenance problems with the fleet of IL-78 FRAs in the IAF’s inventory that the IAF has not been able to resolve, mostly because the OEM has not offered enough product support. The platform’s availability to support combat fleet operations has thus been markedly reduced since the fleet’s serviceability has been declining over time. The IAF’s predicament is made worse by the fact that the IL-78’s refueling pods are prone to failure. As a result, the IAF’s battle fleet has very little room to maneuver to engage the adversary across the LAC.

The IAF does require a larger and more reliable fleet because any combat aircraft introduced to the IAF in the future would be able to refuel in flight.

Also read: All You Need To Know About Indian Air Force Fighter Aircraft

The IAF started working on a proposal to add six new platforms to its FRA fleet in 2006, three years after the introduction of the IL-78. In the first global tender, the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which was significantly more capable than the IL-78, emerged as the favored platform. Due to problems with excessive costs, the tender ran into some insurmountable obstacles at the level of the Indian Ministry of Finance.

Due to this, the initial attempt to purchase the new fleet for the FRA was unsuccessful, and the tender was ultimately canceled in 2009. For the second procurement floated in 2011, bids from competing businesses have been received by the first week of 2014. In this tender as well, the Airbus A330 MRTT won the best platform. Sadly, the tender experienced pricing issues once more and was ultimately canceled in 2016, leaving the IAF in a challenging position.

After being canceled twice by the Ministry of Defence’s rejection of its preferred FRA, the IAF was not very enthusiastic to have a tender launched by the Ministry of Defence for a third time. Fortunately, after a change in policy on the acquisition of military aircraft and missile systems in March 2020, the government now enables long-term leasing instead of purchasing military aircraft or other military equipment. This policy adjustment aims to cut down on the astronomical costs related to the acquisition of large quantities of aircraft and weaponry. According to this new clause, the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus FRA has been added to the IAF’s list of alternatives.

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Siddhant Sandhu

    Blogger at SSBCrackExams, National Cyclist, Ex NCC SUO, Photography, Travelling, International Relations, Sports, Books.

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