Since Indian Ocean is being regularly visited by the navies of the world, Indian Navy has an onerous task at hand to keep a constant watch on them. Indian Ocean, named after India, is widely considered to be India’s courtyard. Hence It is imperative that India maintains a close vigil in the waters surrounding its coastal areas and far beyond. For this task to be effectively performed, the navy requires to drastically increase its current fleet of maritime surveillance aircrafts.
The Aviation arm of all the modern navies has now become an essential component of the naval force deployment in the high seas. Since there is increased threat perception from the Chinese Navy, which has rolled out an ambitious agenda in its White Paper to enlarge its footprint in Indian Ocean, the Indian Navy will have to urgently speed up the modernization plan of its naval aviation arm.
Since the five IL-38s and eight Tu-142s are over two and half decades old , they are on the verge of retirement and the navy urgently requires to augment its surveillance capabilities. The Indian Coast Guard had originally requested for MRMR, but later dropped its plans because of the Indian Navy’s acquisition plan of 9 MRMR. The LRMR are already in the process of final delivery whereas the Short Range Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft ( SRMR) the Dornier- 228 will be supplied by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The Global tender for the nine Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft was issued in August 2013 and the Acceptance of Necessity was issued earlier which was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council in February 2012.
The Navy has received six of the eight Boeing P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft and has issued tender for the 9 MRMR. The Indian Navy is said to be finalizing the qualitative requirement of the MRMR and submit it to the government for approval. They should have capabilities similar to the Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft, but its range would be lesser. The Dornier would primarily be used for electronic warfare to assist in securing one’s own communications and disrupt those of the rival forces.
The naval air arm is utilized as integral active component of the naval forces. It substantially enhances Navy’s air power at sea. The MRMR will give the Indian Navy with an operating range of minimum 350 nm and patrolling duration of three to five hours. It will augment the mission profiles that will be served by Boeing P-8I , acquired from the US.
The P-8I is a variant of US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon. Senior naval officials describe it as a very potent platform with long range capability to neutralize enemy ships and submarines with its Harpoon Block-II missiles, depth chargers and torpedoes. Equipped with most advanced Electronic Warfare systems and most modern radar from Raytheon, the P-8I can conduct anti-submarine warfare, intelligence, maritime patrol, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It is based on the Boeing next generation 737-800 aircraft. Manned by nine crew members, its cockpit is integrated with primary flight display, multifunction displays, Identification friend or foe (IFF), flight management systems and stores management systems. P-8I is equipped with magnetic anomaly detection system, multimode radar, and a Raytheon APY-10 surveillance radar. The P-8I has Indian unique design features and also India built sub-systems, intended to fulfill maritime patrol requirements.
The navy is also putting emphasis on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles. It will also be an important component of Navy’s surveillance activities in future. The navy is currently using Israeli Heron and Searcher UAVs and their squadrons have already been made operational in Kochi, Porbandar and Ramnad. The Carrier borne Unmanned Combat Aircraft is still in conceptual stage in Indian aviation laboratories. Hence, the navy will have to think of importing them.
The contenders for MRMR tender are-IAI- Bombardier, the Saab 2000 MP, Alenia ATR -72 MP, Embraer P99, Lockheed Martin C-130J Sea Hercules, Boeing P-8I and EADS CASA -295 MP. The ERJ 45 from Brazil Embraer have been placed for the tender. It is well known that three of these aircrafts are being configured by Indian DRDO for its AEW&C aircraft program, for which an order of US$ 200 million was placed.
SAAB had offered its Saab-2000 for the Indian MRMR contest, This will be equipped with RBS-15 Anti-ship Missile and a fifth generation Selex AESA radar. Since the Swedish company has closed its production line they have offered re-furbished aircraft. Lockheed Martin is also in the fray for its Sea Hercules whereas Boeing is pitching for its Diet Version of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft in response to the RFI issued by the Navy.
The acceptance of necessity for MRMR was cleared by the Defence Acquisition council in 2012 and that time the Navy had estimated the order worth US$ one billion. The Request for Information was sent to the above mentioned maritime patrol aircraft manufacturers. The Indian Navy had indicated following roles for the maritime aircraft-maritime patrol, anti-surface warfare (2 anti-ship missiles and jammer pod-,ELINT/ESM/ECM/COMINT and search and rescue.
Indian MoD had ordered eight Boeing P-8I and there are expectations that order for four more will be released soon. An Indian Navy official said that 12 Long Range Maritime Surveillance Aircraft, 9 MRMR and 9 Dorniers will be good enough to meet current requirements. The Indian Navy wants immediate decision on 9 MRMR and rest of the four LRMR aircrafts. The MoD has assured the naval headquarter that the fresh orders for four would be issued within current financial year.
Indian Navy has capability development plan and modernization of naval air arm is its important component. This is aimed at supporting fighter and integral helicopter operations from the two Carrier task forces.