New Delhi, Aug 20: The Air Force is planning to deploy six mid-air refuelling tanker aircraft at Panagarh air base in West Bengal, a step that will boost the striking range of its fighter planes like Su-30 MKIs based along the China border.
IAF is expected to soon award the contract for procuring six mid-air refuelling tanker planes for which Russian-origin Ilyushin-78 and European A-330 MRTT are in the race, sources told PTI in New Delhi.
At present, six mid-air refuelling planes are based in Agra to cater to the entire IAF.
With the deployment of these tanker aircraft in Panagarh, the striking range of fighter planes like Su-30 MKIs based in Tezpur and Chhabua (both in Assam) will be enhanced as these can get fuel mid-air.
Mid-air refuellers are considered force-multipliers as they help in enhancing the strategic reach and the striking range of fighter jets.
Panagarh is a World War II airbase developed by the Americans to launch their aircraft into China during that period. It has been reactivated recently for use by the IAF.
The Il-78 and the European A-330 MRTT are in race for the deal to supply these six tankers deal expected to cost more than $2 billion to the IAF.
At present, the fighter jets deployed in the eastern region are being refuelled by the aircraft based in Agra but the whole exercise is a time-consuming process, the sources explained.
As part of its efforts to strengthen its defences and preparedness along the China border, India has taken several steps such as deployment of squadrons of Su-30 MKI and raising of two additional divisions of the troops there.
It is also reactivating and opening airfields in Arunachal Pradesh and other states in the Northeast.