The Government of India has ordered eight Boeing P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft.
At $2.1 billion this will be the biggest-ever defence deal of India with United States, double of the $962-million contract signed with US for six C-130J `Super Hercules’ aircraft for use by Indian special forces, last year.
The Boeing P-8A Poseidon is a long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft first developed for the US Navy, as a replacement to the ageing P3C Orion, on the successful Boeing 737 airframe.
The P-8I has been customised for India, and the platform’s electronics are crucially required in plugging the huge gaps in the Indian Navy’s maritime monitoring and surveillance capabilities. The P-8I will also be armed with the deadly, anti-ship, Harpoon missiles, torpedoes and depth bombs to give them potent anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capability.
The P-8I’s are expected to “enhance interoperability” between the Indian and US navies, and is a critical step in the on-going efforts of greater cooperation and growth strategic embrace between the two nations.
The actual signing took place on January 1, with the Indian defence ministry’s joint secretary and acquisitions manager (maritime systems) Preeti Sudan and Boeing integrated defence systems vice-president and country head Vivek Lall signing the contract
India will get the first P-8I within 4 years, i.e. end-2012 or early-2013, the rest following in a phased manner by 2015. The contract also provides an option for India to order four to eight more such planes.
While the deal has been long in the making, the recent 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, have provided a boost to the closure. Both the Navy and the Coast Guard were criticised for not being able to pre-empt the attacks, and protection of the long Indian coast line has suddenly become a major priority of the Government.
The P-8I will replace the ageing and fuel-guzzling Russian Tupolev-142Ms of the Indian Navy. Presently, the Navy uses the TU-142Ms, IL-38SDs and Dorniers for surveillance operations in the Indian Ocean region.
The Navy is also shopping for six new medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft valued at Rs. 1,600 crore ($ 350 million), to achieve its aim of an effective three-tier surveillance grid in the entire Indian Ocean.
For innermost layer (up to 350 km) surveillance, the Navy is procuring two more Israeli Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), with three ground control stations and two ship control stations, for Rs 386 crore after successfully deploying eight Searcher-II and four Heron UAVs. A joint Indian-Israeli Rs. 1,186 crore effort is on, for developing rotary-wing UAVs for use from warships.