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Sunday, August 30, 2015

IAF Unhappy With MRF? Searching For Partners To Manufacture Aircraft Tyres

Why couldn't MRF, that is supplying tyres for IAF's Su-30MKI fighters, make the same for other aircrafts?

The Indian Air Force [IAF], earlier this month, invited an 'Expression of Interest' [EOI], "from reputed Indian firms for indigenous development of main and nose wheel tyres of all types of aircraft operated by the IAF". Additionally it stated that the, "company should be able to develop the main and nose wheel tyres as per the procedure laid down in DDPMAS 2002 and carry out complete qualification trials for the same as per Qualifying Test Schedules approved by CEMILAC".

Vendors would have to provide 10 samples of their product for testing & certification, which would be followed by the placing of contract.


This EOI stands out because, in 2014, tyre manufacturer MRF announced that it would supply the main wheel tyres for the IAF's Sukhoi Su-30MKI 'Flanker' aircrafts. The Company, which invested 6 years in this R&D effort had, "agreed to do all design, development and quality tests at their own cost in the nation’s interest", stated the IAF. Subsequently, the IAF asked it to also go ahead with development of the Flanker's nose wheel tyres. Thus, in its initiative to replace the imported tyres on other IAF aircrafts with Indian ones, MRF should've been the obvious partner. Leveraging the benefit of 6 years of R&D, it would have come up with solutions faster, & more cost-effectively, than others.

Tyres fitted on to an average aircraft are subjected to conditions, far diverse & of magnitude much higher than an average land-based vehicle. When an aircraft sits on the tarmac, the tyre bears its entire weight. During taxiing on the runway, it must provide the aircraft with a cushioned ride, without overheating. At the time of landing, the tyres must not only cushion the impact of landing, it must also transmit the dynamic loads applied during braking onto the ground. The graph, below, depicts the Speed Vs. Load experienced by different vehicles.


via Aircraft Tire Properties 6

Thus, as seen, while a racing vehicle may reach speeds matching that of an aircraft, the load experienced is miniscule. Similarly, while the off-the-road vehicle may experience loads comparable to the aircraft, it moves at a much lower speed. As rightly stated, "Aircraft tires have the worst of both loads and speeds".

One can hazard a few guesses behind the rationale of this EOI. The first, as already stated, is that IAF is dissatisfied with MRF's 'Aero Muscle' tyres, despite CEMILAC [watch] having certified it. Second, its a move to cultivate multiple vendors, thus preventing MRF monopoly. Third, since the Su-30MKI tyres were an outcome of MRF's own initiative, it would emerge as natural winner of this EOI, thereby preventing allegations of favouritism, giving IAF the chance to scope the market to weigh in its options. Fourth, either by IAF's assessment or by its own admission, MRF would be unable to scale up to meet the IAF's demands for tyres for its entire fleet of aircrafts, the fourth largest Air Force in the world. IMHO, the EOI is a result of the 3rd possibility.

Whatever the reason, "the nations wants to know".


Also read: DRDO Looks For Partner To Build & Maintain The Indigenous AEW&C Systems