Maritime surveillance capabilities of the Indian Navy would not be complete till the medium range maritime reconnaissance aircrafts are inducted following the process given a final push through the issuance of the RFP for nine MRMR aircraft way back in 2013.
Eight aircraft makers had submitted the Request for Information which included Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus Military Casa, Dassault, Saab, Bombardier, Embrayer and the ATR.
On this basis acceptance of necessity was cleared by the Defence Acquisitions Council and the order was expected to be around US$ one billion.
With over 7000 km of long coast line and two chains of islands in the eastern and western coast of the Indian Ocean, Indian Navy needs a fleet of surveillance planes, to ensure round the clock observation of the huge maritime areas and Exclusive Economic Zone under its control.
Before the final decision on the MRMRs, the Indian Navy has finally inducted all the eight ordered P-8Is.
The Boeing had been very steadfast in supplying the eight Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft P-8I, the last one was delivered in November 2015, exactly on schedule.
These Nine MRMR planes will be in addition to the 12 long range P-8Is. The earlier order of eight had been expanded to 12 after eights were supplied, for which Boeing is waiting for a formal order of extra four from Indian MoD.
Like the LRMRs, the MRMRs will also be equipped with most modern radars and armed with long range deadly missiles, rockets and torpedoes for anti-warship and anti-submarine warfare.
The MRMRs will have an operating range of 350 nautical miles which will be the intelligent eyes and ears of the Indian Navy over the huge Indian Ocean in the medium range.
On the other hand, the operating range of The P-8Is will be 1200 nautical miles and will be patrolling the outermost layer of Indian Navy’s three tier maritime surveillance grid.
The middle layer will be taken care of by the MRMRs where as the innermost layers will be guarded by the Dorniers and the Spy drones like the Heron and Searcher-II.
The P-8Is will be armed with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, these sensor and radar-packed aircraft are the Indian Navy’s intelligent Hawk Eyes over the Indian Ocean region that is increasingly getting militarized.
During the time of four year induction period, the P-8I has achieved a number of operational milestones like participation in the search operation of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, the first successful firing of air launched Harpoon Block-II missile in the world besides taking active part in some of the important naval exercises.
The Indian Defence Public Sector Undertakings had developed communication and sensor suites, which have been deployed in the aircraft due to which the aircraft is fully integrated with state of the art sensors.
The present fleet of Tu-142s and the Il-38s are no doubt operational but not to its original capacity and nowhere near the US supplied P-8Is.
Only US navy has been supplied with this ultra modern maritime surveillance aircraft called the Poseidon.
As the long range Tupolev-142 Russian maritime surveillance aircraft inducted in the Indian Navy in 1988 are now going into the final years of service after midlife updates and the lesser range Ilyushin-38 on the verge of retirement, the Indian Navy urgently needs to refurbish its maritime surveillance capabilities.
Designed and developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau and produced by the Kuibyshev Aviation and Taganrog Machinery Plants, the aircraft is primarily deployed in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, maritime reconnaissance and low range patrol runs.
Armed with a set of anti-submarine weapons to protect territorial waters from submarines of rival nations, the Tu-142 has been in service with the Indian Navy’s 312nd squadron since 1988.
The aircraft routinely scans enemy submarines and has been deployed in complex anti-submarine warfare and patrol missions across the Indian Ocean. Two of the Tu-142M aircraft flown by the Indian Navy were updated by TAVIA, which is a wing of the Beriev Aircraft Company.
Later, two additional out of total of eight were retrofitted in July 2010. The seventh updated and modernized Tu-142ME (IN 317) aircraft were handed over to Indian Navy in August 2014.
The Tu-142 M aircraft is about 49.5m in overall length, 12m high and has wing span of around 50m. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 185,000kg and is operated by a crew of 11, including flight crew and navigators and observers.
The aircraft features the monoplane and the mid wing design. It is fitted with a single-fin tail and tricycle landing gear with controlled front wheels.
It also has a monocoque fuselage having a length of 46.4 meters and a maximum diameter of 2.9 meters.
The fuselage has a set of longitudinal stringers, a cross set of frames with stressed skin. Two cargo compartments are located at the lower part of the fuselage. The tail section is fitted with a rear cannon mounting.
These aircrafts were inducted in the hay days of the Cold War when the Indian Ocean was a zone of contention between the two superpowers and the Americans were flying the P-3-C-Orion from the Gwadar air base near Karachi.
Now, since the Indian Ocean has only been vacated by the Russians and the powerful Americans have turned friendly, there should have been no cause of worry for the Indian Navy.
Since the Indian Ocean is now infested by Chinese warships and submarines, Indian Navy needs to be more vigilant for which more resources and capabilities are needed to fulfil Indian Navy’s surveillance requirements.
The smaller range Ilyushin aircraft Il-38 was designed by the Russian Ilyushin Aviation complex.
This has been derived from the Ilyushin Il-18 turboprop transport aircraft, the Il-38 has been extensively utilised since last three and half decades, by the Indian Navy in surveillance, search and rescue, maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare operations by detecting and intercepting surface vessels and submarines.
The aircraft has been upgraded to extend its service life by 2015. The Indian Navy had placed an order for upgrading five of its fleet in 2001.
This has extended the operational life of the aircraft by one and half decades. Two upgraded aircrafts were handed over to the Indian Navy in January 2006 and the third was supplied in 2008.
The last upgraded aircraft was delivered in February 2010. The upgraded Il-38 has been re- designated as Il-38SD. During the upgrade the aircraft’s anti sub system was replaced with modern and compact system called Novella or Sea Dragon.