Indian Navy has speeded up acquisitions of warships to strengthen its role in IOR
In the 21st century, the Indian Navy emerged as the fifth largest navy in the world, extending its reach to the farthest corners of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). With its growing sea assets, the Indian Navy has become a dominant force in the IOR. Keeping that in mind, India’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan envisages a 200-ship fleet by 2027 to guard the nation’s enormous coastline from all kinds of threats. The force, which currently has over 137 ships and submarines under its command, has speeded up acquisitions of warships, while building a formidable indigenous capability back home.
India sees itself as the net security provider in the region. However, IOR is witnessing an unprecedented spurt in the presence of navies from countries like China, which is aggressively building its naval capabilities. As such, enhancing vigilance in its seas has become more important than ever for India. The country, therefore, needs to strengthen its maritime reconnaissance capabilities, which is constantly evolving, and now includes anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare, anti-ship, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance gathering. The role of aircraft becomes paramount when it comes to maritime reconnaissance and surveillance, as they take advantage of the height, speed and range to offer an unblemished imagery of the concerned area.
The Indian Navy has different categories of such assets, which includes fixed-wing and rotary wing aircraft. In terms of fixed-wing assets, the spectrum of surveillance and reconnaissance includes long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR), medium-range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR), and short-range maritime reconnaissance (SRMR).
The Boeing P-8I long-range maritime surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft has played a prominent role in the Indian Navy, and the force has constantly increased the fleet of these aircraft. The Indian Navy already has eight P-8Is in service, which were first delivered by Boeing in 2013. The order for four more was given in 2016. The Indian Navy has now reportedly given the go-ahead to six more P-8I aircraft, which will take the fleet size to 18 by 2020-21, when the final order of six aircraft is expected to be delivered.
Boeing is optimistic about its partnership with the Indian Navy and has offered top of the line assets to the force. The company’s India managing director, Surendra Ahuja, said, “Boeing has been a strong partner in mission readiness and modernisation of India’s defence forces. We’re grateful to partner with the Indian Navy to secure the country’s maritime interests with the P-8I that is capable of maritime surveillance, anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare and search and rescue operations. The P-8I has demonstrated an excellent record in supporting the missions they have been deployed for and has surpassed close to 25,000 flight hours since their induction in 2015.”
“We are in a unique position to integrate defence platforms and services in-country. Boeing is optimised to provide lifecycle value to our Indian customer, whether it’s on current defence aircraft or those pursued in the future. Boeing Defence India is a local entity that provides holistic lifecycle solutions for government and defence customers in India and ensures the high availability of platforms to our defence customers for missions at competitive costs,” he added.
The Indian Navy has been clear about the importance of the P-8I for maritime security, and has constantly pitched for the increase in its fleet. Built specifically for maritime surveillance, the aircraft was a replacement to the Indian Navy’s ageing Tu-142M fleet. The India-specific version of the aircraft comes with many additional sensors and gadgets employed specifically towards the Indian Navy’s operational requirements in the IOR. The aircraft can not only perform basic surveillance and reconnaissance but is also capable of ASW, anti-surface warfare, intelligence gathering, early warning missions, and target tracking. The P-8Is versatility makes it a true game-changer for the Indian Navy.
The Indian Navy ordered AGM-84L Harpoon Block II missiles and Mk 54 All-Up-Round Lightweight Torpedoes as additions for the aircraft. Armed with Harpoons, P-8I has played a plethora of roles for the Indian Navy, besides its deployment for various missions and surveillance of the Chinese submarines in the IOR. The versatile platform has also been used to search for the missing MH370 aircraft, and disaster response. P-8I played a lead role in the search for the lost military aircraft in India’s Northeast. The increasing presence of China’s nuclear-armed submarines in the Indian Ocean also gives credence to the enhancement of the P-8I fleet.
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