By Atul Chandra
Just over a month ago the first Boeing P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft for the Indian Navy completed its maiden flight by landing at Boeing Field in Seattle. Following the flight Boeing has begun mission systems installation and checkout work on the aircraft at a company facility near Boeing Field. News of the first flight is no doubt good news for the Indian Navy which is facing a critical shortage of shore-based maritime surveillance assets with an ageing and obsolescent fleet. Boeing is to deliver the first P-8I to the Indian Navy by January 2013, with the Indian Navy having ordered 11 more. The company has been on target and delivered the first aircraft 48 months after the signing of the contract in January 2009.
Once all the 12 P8I aircraft are inducted, they will help plug major gaps in the Indian Navy’s ability to maintain surveillance in the Indian Ocean region. The aircraft offers a range of 600 nautical miles and loiter time of six hours on station and cruise speeds in the region of 445 knots. Mid-air refuelling capability will further extend range. However, currently the only mid-air tankers in India belong to the Indian Air Force and are Russian origin IL-78 MKI tankers. The aircraft will perform anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles, will carry torpedoes, depth charges and Harpoon missiles as armament. India is the first international customer for the P-8 aircraft of Boeing and the P-8I is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon being designed and built by Boeing for the US Navy. The US Navy is looking to acquire 117 P-8A aircraft to replace its existing Lockheed P-3 Orion fleet, initial operational capability is scheduled for 2013.
The aircraft features open system architecture, advanced sensor and display technologies, and a worldwide base of suppliers, parts and support equipment. Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has supplied a number of critical items to Boeing for the Navy’s P-8I and has an Indian designed Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Interrogator, a Battle Management System that will enable P-8I aircraft to distinguish friendly aircraft and forces. Other indigenous components are BEL’s Data Link II communications system, Avantel’s mobile satellite system and the Electronic Corporation of India Limited’s (ECIL) speech secrecy system. Boeing will install these systems during final assembly at its facility in Renton, Washington.
The primary sensor onboard the P-8I will be the Raytheon AN/APY-10 Multi-mission maritime and overland surveillance radar. This is the first international contract award for Raytheon’s programme. Raytheon officials have stated that the AN/APY-10 radar for the Indian Navy will have more features compared to the US Navy and will be able to perform at significant tactical distances while also being able to detect small targets. The radar can provide image targeting at very long ranges and conduct overall land operations including in the coastal regions. The AN/APY-10 radar has been optimised for maritime, littoral and overland surveillance roles and can provide ‘ultra-high resolution’ imaging modes for both maritime and overland operations. Identified system operating modes are: colour weather Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) and navigation, periscope detection Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR).The radars colour weather mode provides weather detection and avoidance along with ISAR mode optimised for real-time imaging and classification of surface targets at long and stand-off ranges while offering multiple resolutions, range versus Doppler imaging of designated targets and an A-scan range versus profile display. The sensor’s navigation mode provides coastline, terrain and ocean feature mapping.
The AN/APY-10 was originally developed for use onboard US Navy (USN) P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft. The radar has emerged from Raytheon’s AN/APS-137 product line but differs from preceding AN/APS-137 radars as a result of its reduced weight and power requirements, smaller size and an increased Mean Time between Failure (MTBF). It also features additional target track and colour weather avoidance capabilities and an integral growth path for future technology inserts. Within the P-8A weapon system, AN/APY-10 is completely integrated into the aircraft’s Mission Control and Display System (MCDS) with regards to system control, display and data distribution.
In June this year, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to India for 32 Raytheon MK-54 All-Up-Round Lightweight Torpedoes with associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of USD 86 million. This all but confirms that the Indian Navy will equip its P-8I aircraft with the MK-54 and will comprise of sale of 32 MK-54 All-Up-Round Lightweight Torpedoes, three recoverable exercise torpedoes, one training shape, containers, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, transportation, US government and contractor representatives’ technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support.
The first tests last month for the MK 54 torpedo aboard a US Navy P-8A Poseidon were successfully conducted at a test event in the Atlantic Test Range. The Mission Computing and Display System aboard the P-8A, allowed launch of a single torpedo from the P-8A test aircraft, T-3, 500 feet above water. Unlike other platforms, the tactician performs the separation of stores and weapons from the aircraft. The tests verified the safe separation of the MK 54 weapon from the P-8A and future testing will include delivery accuracy, weapon integration, and end-to-end tests. The MK 54 Lightweight Torpedo reached Initial Operational Capability in 2004, weighs 608 pounds and contains a 96.8 pound, high-explosive warhead. The MK 54 ‘MAKO’ Lightweight Torpedo was previously known as the Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo (LHT). It integrates existing torpedo hardware and software from the MK 46, MK 50 and MK 48 torpedo programmes with state-of-the-art commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) digital signal-processing technology. An advanced guidance and control (G&C) section employing COTS processing technologies with tactical software improvements significantly increase shallow water counter-countermeasure capability at the same reducing lifecycle costs. These features provide performance improvements in the most challenging littoral scenarios. Future development will provide improvements to shallow water performance via software Advanced Processor Build (APB) upgrades, and the Tech Insertion (TI-1) of a new array assembly.
The Indian Navy will also acquire 21 AGM-84L HARPOON Block II Missiles, associated equipment, parts and logistical support for a complete package worth approximately USD 200 million. The package will consist of 21 AGM-84L HARPOON Block II Missiles, five ATM-84L HARPOON Block II Training Missiles, Captive Air Training Missiles, containers, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, US Government and contractor representatives technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support at an estimated cost of USD 200 million. HARPOON Block II missiles have already been purchased for integration onboard Indian Air Force (IAF) Jaguar maritime strike aircraft.
Indian Navy’s LRMR Fleet
The Indian Navy’s Aviation arm conducts shore-based reconnaissance through its fleet of Tu-142, IL-38 and Dornier-228 aircraft. According to a recent CAG report for an audit covering the period from 2003-2009, “Reconnaissance activities have been curtailed due to drastic depletion in the force level and limited capability as a result of ageing of the aircraft, outdated equipment and suboptimal functioning of other equipment. No induction of aircraft for combat, LRMR and ASW role was done during the period 1990 to 2005”. Presently 100 per cent of the LRMR and major portion of the ASW fleet have already outlived their prescribed life and are nearing the end of their extended life.
According to the report the situation with regards to Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft, i.e. IL-38 SD and Tu-142 M, was particularly bleak. The IL-38, it was inducted into the Indian Navy in 1977 and has served for 34 years. The ageing aircraft were initially expected to be phased out in 2002, but were saved from the axe when the Government cleared a proposal to refurbish and modernise aircraft with 15 years extension of life.
In 2001 the Indian Navy undertook the installation of a maritime reconnaissance/antisubmarine warfare suite called ‘Sea Dragon’ for its IL-38 fleet at a cost of USD 144.5 million. The first aircraft were to be delivered by December 2004 but delays lead to delivery of first two refurbished aircraft in January 2004 and April 2006 with a third being delivered in June 2008 and a fourth in November 2009. During 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 not even one aircraft was available for operation as the fleet was undergoing a Mid Life Upgrade (MLU). The Sea Dragon Suite could be proven only in 2009 and there continue to be serious deficiencies related to the fitment of weather radar and communications system, which have restricted the performance of aircraft. Surprisingly, the IL-38SD of the Indian Navy was without associated equipment like sonobuoys, missiles and bombs, during the period of the audit and has been unable to achieve its desired performance in the maritime reconnaissance/antisubmarine warfare (MR/ASW) role.
In respect of the second LRMR aircraft, Eight LRMR/ASW Tu-142 M aircraft were inducted into the Navy during 1987-88 with Total Technical Life (TTL) of 16 years or 5000 flying hours. It has outlived its TTL which had been extended from 20 to 25 years. The total flying hours achieved by each aircraft in the Tu-142 M fleet in 20/21 years of service has ranged from 1648:37 hrs to 3648:49 hrs. Both the Tu-142 M and IL-38 fleets suffer from a lack of accuracy of navigational equipment and an outdated weapon sensor fit, that have made the aircraft unsuitable for locating and destroying modern submarines. According to the CAG report, the Seventies origin navigation and communication suites along with obsolescence of sensors and equipment fit have resulted in the aircraft being exploited to a far lesser extent than its total technical life.