Airbus Military has confirmed that it has been selected as the preferred bidder for the Indian air force’s (IAF) aerial refueling tanker program.

India is discussing the purchase of six aircraft in a deal worth around $1 billion. India selected the Airbus A330 multirole tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft over the Russian-built Ilyushin Il-78 tanker aircraft, a variant of the Il-76 transport plane already in service with the IAF.

In a statement, Airbus Military said the aircraft would be “delivered over a 51-month period starting at a date to be agreed as part of the contractual discussions.”

Preferred bidder status in India means that the platform has been selected, but this does not represent a final contractual decision. Airbus Military says it does not know when the contract may be signed, but budget cuts announced by the Indian government in the New Year (AWIN First, Jan. 3) may slow the tanker aircraft procurement. The government cut defense spending by about 5% from the allocated 1.93 trillion rupees ($38.6 billion), mainly due to the ongoing economic downturn.

According to Airbus Military, a critical part of the selection was the demonstration of the tanker being able to refuel a mix of fighter types while operating from the high-altitude IAF base at Leh in the Himalayas.

India will become the fifth country to order the A330 MRTT following Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.K.

A330 photo: Airbus