By Gulshan Luthra
The Indian vy is considering the acquisition of more Boeing P-8I aircraft for surveillance and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), according to vy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba.
In an interview to the magazine 'India Strategic', Admiral Lanba said that air surveillance capability is an important subset of val operations and that while the proposal was on the table, he could not disclose the required numbers.
His predecessors have spoken of a requirement of 30 Long-Range Maritime Reconissance (LRMR) aircraft, under which the vy has already inducted eight aircraft and placed an order for four more.
Because of the overall tardy process of routine modernisation of the armed forces over the last 30 years, the Indian vy has not been able to renew its inventory of submarines but the acquisition of the P-8I has given it a very strong offensive capability to detect and hunt hostile submarines. In terms of contemporary weapon technologies, the P-8I, often referred to as the "submarine killer", is perhaps the most advanced system that any of the three Indian services have acquired in recent years. The aircraft was deployed in 2013 by the Indian vy around the same time the US vy did.
The Defence Ministry has officially stated that the P-8I is "capable of thrusting a punitive response and maintaining a watch over India's immediate and extended areas of interest".
Asked about the growing number of hostile submarines in the Indian Ocean, nearer home in fact, Admiral Lanba said: "As a professiol military force, we constantly evaluate the maritime security environment in our areas of interest. We lay a lot of stress on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Accordingly, we are fully seized of the presence and likely intentions of all extra-regiol forces operating in the Indian Ocean. Our vy is fully capable and ever ready to meet any challenges that may arise in the maritime domain."
Significantly, the agreement for the P-8Is was signed on January 1, 2009, within a couple of months of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks which exposed the vulnerability of the country's maritime defences. The attack, in fact, triggered the government to clear quite a few proposals for the armed forces as well as to review what should be done to ensure security of Indian waters, particularly the coastal belts on the country's eastern and western seaboards.
The vy is now the nodal agency for coorditing surveillance through satellites and aircraft and a network of police and small boats has also been integrated into the system.
The vy and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) also operate a number of HAL-made Dornier 228 aircraft, while some proposals for more LRMR and Medium-Range Maritime Reconissance (MRMR) have been on the table for the last few years.
"A number of measures have been taken since 26/11 to strengthen maritime, coastal and offshore security by the concerned agencies in the country. These measures broadly include increasing capacity and capabilities of maritime security forces, enhanced surveillance and domain awareness of the maritime zones, increased regulation of maritime activities, streamlining intelligence-sharing between different agencies and strengthening overall maritime governce. There have been significant improvements in the operatiol response to developing situations at and from the seas," said Admiral Lanba.
At the tiol level, coordition of coastal security-related activities is being carried out by the tiol Committee for Strengthening Coastal and Maritime Security (NCSCMS).
The vy had ordered eight P-8I aircraft in 2009 for $2.1 billion along with a training package. Weapons and torpedoes were extra as needed, and under the Options Clause, four more aircraft were ordered in August 2016. Boeing says that it delivered the first lot of eight aircraft "on time, on cost" and helped set up their base at the INS Rajali val Air Station at Arakkom in Tamil du.
Boeing had been awarded a three-year contract in June last year for engineering and logistics support for the P-8I fleet. In January 2018, the vy has been given approximately Rs 2,000 crore (almost $315 million) for a Training Solution along with a 10-year package for comprehensive maintence service.
The training facility at INS Rajali will be the third of its kind after those in the US and Australia, and will train pilots, observers and ordnce and technical personnel. Spread over 60,000 sq ft, the facility would be completed by 2021.
A Training Simulator to be set up at the val Institute of Aeroutical Technology (NIAT), Kochi, for ab-initio training of the technical personnel is part of the package.
The Indian variant has certain Indian components, including communication software and IFF (Identify Friend or Foe), to align with Indian val and Air Force aircraft and net-centric systems. It has 360-degree radar view. Built on the Boeing 737 frame, the P8-I is capable of detecting and destroying hostile submarines deep under the water. It has 11 hard points for carrying Harpoon anti-shipping missiles and depth charges, and five stations in the weapons bay for Raytheon-supplied Mk-54 torpedoes. It is capable of tracking even small vessels in littoral and high seas environments. The Indian variant also has the Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) which measures minute variations and disturbances in the earth's magnetic field caused by the underwater movement of steel-encased submarines.
India has already acquired a number of Harpoon Block II missiles for use both by the vy and IAF, which also conducts maritime patrols. (IANS)