In Key Reforms, IAF May Soon Be Able To Hire Mid-air Refuelling Aircraft For Emergency Situations
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In Key Reforms, IAF May Soon Be Able To Hire Mid-air Refuelling Aircraft For Emergency Situations

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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is likely to get financial powers to hire aircraft, including mid-air refuelers, and related equipment for short term in order to address operational emergencies, top defence sources have said, in a move that could cut down on tedious paperwork during crunch situations.

The financial powers that IAF is likely to get for the first time are part of larger reforms by the defence ministry and will help the force obtain critical air assets from private players — and even foreign governments — in a short time frame and for a short duration in case of contingencies, the sources said.

“This is particularly important in the wake of the dwindling defence budget. Any major procurement is a long and a tedious process requiring multiple clearances,” a senior defence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told News18.com.

Mid-air refuelers act as a force multiplier and add strategic heft to any air force by letting an aircraft stay longer in the air. Though IAF operates a fleet of six Russian IIyushin-78 refuelling tankers, they are facing service issues.

The financial powers, which could allow IAF to spend between Rs 100 crore and Rs 200 crore in each case, will stem from the Delegation of Financial Powers to Defence Services (DFPDS), which is undergoing revisions and likely to be released shortly.

DFPDS is the document that governs all defence revenue procurements by identifying competent financial authorities and financial powers accorded to them.

While capital procurements refer to the acquisition of major capital assets, weapons or weapon systems and other critical equipment that enhance long-term capabilities of the armed forces, revenue purchases, among others, are related to the procurement of critical spares and ammunition required for the maintenance of these capital assets.

Capital procurements are governed by the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP), which was released in September 2020.

The ongoing revision of DFPDS, which was last notified in 2016, is a major reform by the defence ministry in view of emerging security threats and the need for faster and easier procurements of critical machinery to keep the forces keep operation-ready.

Hurdles In The Past

IAF has made at least two unsuccessful attempts since 2007 to procure mid-air refuelling aircraft. Both tenders were scrapped because of pricing complications. Even as a third procurement attempt was being considered, IAF had been simultaneously looking at getting refuelling aircraft from foreign players on lease.

A second officer explained that leasing, too, was an expensive exercise under DAP 2020.

“Moreover, in leasing, maintenance of the asset becomes our responsibility. This may not be the case with hiring them,” this officer said.

“We will need to wait and see the hiring business solutions being offered by the industry. IAF can also enter into hiring contracts with other governments,” the officer added.

The Indian Navy has the financial powers for hiring vessels, boats and associated equipment for harbour patrols, force protection and coastal security, among others.

Sources News18.com spoke to also said IAF’s financial powers might increase by up to three times for indigenisation, and research and development in the revised DFPDS, which could include design and development of critical equipment. This would be in line with the central government’s flagship Atmanirbhar Bharat project.

In May 2021, the defence ministry came out with a second “Positive Indigenisation List” of 108 items, including single-engine light helicopters and mini drones. These will be procured from indigenous sources.

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