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PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Defense and Space said on Friday that it will supply six A330 MRTT refueling jets to Singapore's air force and that India was close to ordering another half dozen.
The deal brings the total number of converted Airbus jetliners sold as tankers to 34 worldwide after Australia, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates previously placed orders.
India was in the "final stages of contractual negotiations for six aircraft," the company, a subsidiary of Airbus Group NV (AIR.PA), said in a statement.
Airbus Group Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders told reporters in Washington that the Singapore order underscored the appeal of the MRTT tanker, although he acknowledged that the orders were far smaller than the 179 planes ordered by the U.S. Air Force from Boeing Co (BA.N) after a prolonged series of competitions.
Singapore was also assessing the Boeing 767-based KC-46A tanker being built for the U.S. Air Force.
Boeing said it was disappointed by the news, but remained committed to its longstanding relationship with Singapore.
Boeing said it would also continue to vie for tanker orders elsewhere, including South Korea, which is expected to launch a formal competition in coming months.
"We continue to see strong interest in the KC-46A from nations looking to modernize their aerial refueling capabilities," said Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling.
Singapore's decision to buy the six Airbus tankers to replace its fleet of four Boeing KC-135 tankers gives it a vehicle that can refuel both its F-15s and a possible purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35s (LMT.N).
The Airbus purchase means Singapore could transport aircraft that can carry around 300 passengers. That would be useful for the Singapore Armed Forces, which conducts training in Australia and Taiwan.
Singapore-based maintenance and repair firm ST Aerospace, a unit of Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (STEG.SI), was expected to be selected to make the modifications on the A330 MRTT for the country.
Reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris,; Siva Govindasamy in Singapore and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by James Regan, Amanda Kwan and Diane Craft