The Indian Navy will acquire 12 more Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft to boost its eye in the sky over India’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. This is in addition to the 12 already ordered, a top commander said.
Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma told India Strategic defence magazine in an interview that the force was satisfied with the progress of the first eight P-8Is being built by Boeing under a 2009 order and that the second order for four more aircraft was being processed. It would be placed within the current fiscal ending March 2012.
At a later date, it was planned to acquire 12 more P-8Is for offshore surveillance and protection of the Indian waters and interests, bringing the total to 24, Verma added.
India’s coastline exceeds 7,500 km, besides which there are several island territories and economic interests off the east and west coasts.
Hitherto, the Indian Navy has been using old, Soviet-vintage maritime reconnaissance aircraft. But, after the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, the government cleared the first eight P-8Is within three months of the horror. Four more were cleared earlier this year.
In fact, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself who had asked the defence ministry to ensure the navy’s modernisation after the 26/11 attack, in which 10 Pakistani terrorists easily managed to infiltrate into Mumbai and killed 166 people and injured more than 300.
It may be noted that there had been a virtual paralysis in the government on defence modernisation after the V.P. Singh government instituted an inquiry in 1989 over the controversial Bofors gun deal with Sweden. The Kargil War over Pakistani occupation of strategic Himalayan heights inside India triggered the first round of modernisation and 26/11 the second.
Verma said that the P-8I is the most advanced LRMR platform with a capability to observe even small boats and destroy hostile submarines. India is the first export customer for this aircraft, and the advantage is that India will benefit from the hi-tech systems being developed for the US Navy, which has ordered 117 aircraft.
Most of the specifications of the US and Indian navies are reportedly common but details are understandably being kept secret.
There would be some Indian components though, thanks to the offsets and transfer of technology requirements. India’s Bharat Electronics Ltd has already started supplying its Data Link II system to facilitate the P-8I’s communications with Indian space, naval, and land based-assets.
The US aircraft, designated the P8-A Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft (MMA), has the capability of broad-area surveillance and launching Harpoon anti-ship and land attack missiles, depth charges and torpedoes against submarines and underwater unmanned assets. The aircraft can also perform electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions with its highly sophisticated Raytheon APY-10 radar and Northrop Grumman electronic warfare (EW) systems.
The first Indian P-8I, which first flew on Sep 28 in the presence of Indian Navy officers, is due to be delivered in January 2013. The first US Navy P8-A flew in April 2009 and is due to be delivered mid-2012. Indian Navy officers periodically visit the Boeing factory at Renton in Washington state to monitor the progress of the project and installation of specified systems.
India Strategic quoted Verma as saying that he expected all the P-8Is to be delivered in about six to seven years but did not give the planned schedule.
The P8 aircraft is a next-generation military version of the Boeing 737-800 fuselage with wingtips from the 737-900. The engines are also from the same CFM family used on commercial 737s but more powerful, permitting the aircraft low level cruise over the waters and launch sonobuoys to detect submarines.
There are five stations for systems and weapons operators, and the aircraft can remain in the air for several hours.
According to a Boeing statement, ‘All sensors contribute to a single fused tactical situation display, which is then shared over both military standard and internet protocol data links, allowing for seamless delivery of information while simultaneously providing data to everyone on the network.’