In Deep Waters

Maritime reconnaissance aircraft are crucial towards augmenting maritime domain awareness

Mihir Paul

The Indian Navy’s maritime reconnaissance assets are growing in strength. However, there are some acquisitions that need to be fast-tracked in order to make such capabilities more prolific.

The P-8I aircraft
The P-8I aircraft

In the context of heightened maritime activity by our eastern neighbour in the Indo-Pacific region, an increased maritime domain awareness (MDA) has become a dominant factor driving planning and acquisition moves for the Indian Navy in recent years. Also, considering the fact that maritime domain awareness is imperatively crucial towards maintaining maritime security, India’s vast coastline calls for a plethora of specialised aerial assets, which can adeptly carry out patrols, surveillance, reconnaissance, and engagement of targets, if necessary. One of the most important aerial assets being – fixed-wing maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

From the presence of enemy warships to submarines, keeping tabs on littoral waters is more important than ever. The increasing presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) further strengthens the argument to have effective aerial assets in our navy’s inventory. Maritime reconnaissance, like technology and hardware, has evolved over the years, and now includes anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare, anti-ship, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance gathering.

According to RAdm. Sudhir Pillai (retd), MDA is critical to naval forces.  Towards this, rapid and accurate information gathering is important, and aircraft are central to this effort with the advantages afforded by height (increased radar and visual search horizon), speed (rapid and efficient search and patrol of large areas), and range (to cover large distances from coast or from forces operating at sea.

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).


When it comes to long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Indian Navy boasts 8 state-of-the-art Boeing P-8I long-range multi-role maritime reconnaissance aircraft. A force multiplier, the P-8I ‘Neptune’ is a derivative of the US Navy’s tried and tested P-8A.

A replacement to the Indian Navy’s ageing Tu-142M fleet, the P-8I is specifically built for maritime surveillance. The India-specific version of the bird comes with a host of additional sensors and gadgets catered 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.

Speaking to FORCE, Cmde Anil Jai Singh (retd) said, “The P-8I is a fantastic aircraft. Its multi-role long-range platform makes it great for maritime domain awareness, ASW etc. and its capabilities are essential for a navy like ours.”

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