Active and Alert

The Indian Navy’s P-8I leads its Maritime Domain Awareness missions

Palak Gupta

In March, the Indian Navy along with French Navy conducted joint patrol from the Reunion Island, a French overseas territory east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The joint patrol, which is a first-of-its-kind, is a rarity for a French non-NATO military link and was aimed at checking the traffic in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which is witnessing an increasing security threat due to proliferation of submarines.

Earlier in February, India seized an industrial autoclave from a Chinese vessel Da Cui Yan which was headed for Karachi. Since industrial autoclave has military applications as well and could be used for missile and rocket development, eyebrows were expectedly raised in New Delhi.

With a coastline of 7,516.6km, patrol/ reconnaissance aircraft are crucial for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). These aircraft are designed or adapted to perform aerial reconnaissance with roles including collection of imagery intelligence (including using photography), signals intelligence, as well as measurement and signature intelligence. For this purpose, the Indian Navy inventory includes fixed wing platforms such as Boeing’s P-8I, Ilyushin’s Il-38 and Dornier Do-228.

Indian Navy’s P8I aircraft


Boeing’s P-8I

The P-8A Poseidon was developed for the US Navy. The Indian Navy operates a P-8A version designated as P-8I. Boeing P-8I aircraft is a long-range, multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft. India presently operates eight P-8Is with four more in production. These were to be delivered in the first quarter of 2020, however, with Covid-19 pandemic, the delivery schedule will be revised. Meanwhile, negotiations for procurement of six additional P-8Is are underway.

The Indian Navy operates its entire fleet of P-8I maritime patrol aircraft from Rajali, the naval base in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu. As a part of an agreement between India and Boeing, a 60,000 sq ft Training Support and Data Handling (TSDH) centre is being setup at INS Rajali, with a secondary centre at Naval Air Station Kochi. The aircraft has clocked more than 25,000 flight hours.

According to Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd), the future requirement of P-8I may total up to 31. “P-8I has three roles: Maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. It can hunt an adversary surface ship and fire Harpoon missiles to destroy it. Similarly, it can hunt a submarine and destroy it using advanced torpedoes. It also has Electronic Warfare and Optical sensors,” he says.

The aircraft flies at a speed of 490 knots or 789km/h. Its power-plant integrates two CFM56-7B engines, with each developing 27,000lb of thrust. The aircraft’s range is more than 1,200 nautical miles, with four hours on station (2,222 km).

According to Captain Dalip Sharma (retd) “P-8I has been a game changer that has shrunk battlespace whilst increasing transparency and maintaining near continuous surveillance far away from the Indian shores. In short, it is a true force multiplier across multiple domains and geographical boundaries.”

As per Boeing, the P-8I is not just tasked with coastal patrolling operations but it can also be used for other critical missions like search-and-rescue, anti-piracy, and supporting operations of other arms of the military.

“We are proud to support the Indian Navy with the P-8Is. The P-8I has given the Indian Navy a significant edge over other naval forces in the strategically important IOR. It can fly higher, farther and faster than other maritime patrol aircraft and can detect, track and report on more targets than ever before,” said President, Boeing India, Salil Gupte in an interview to FORCE.

“India’s P-8I fleet has crossed over 21,000 flight hours since its induction and we continue to work closely with our customers on their future requirements to deliver advanced capability and enable the highest state of fleet readiness at the lowest possible cost,” he adds.

Earlier in February, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat acknowledged the deployment of Indian Navy’s P-8I to carry out surveillance on movement of Chinese troops during the 73-day-long standoff between India and China in Doklam.

The aircraft was also deployed to keep a tab on the movement of Pakistani troops after the 14 February 2019 Pulwama terror attack which claimed lives of over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. In 2018, P-8I participated in the Rim of Pacific multinational naval exercise (RIMPAC-18). This was the first time the Indian Navy deployed an aircraft deep into the east of Pacific for an international exercise.

Il-38 Maritime Patrol / ASW Aircraft

The aircraft designed by the Russia-based Ilyushin Aviation Complex can be deployed in surveillance, search and rescue, maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare operations. The aircraft can detect and intercept surface vessels and submarines.

It is currently in service with the Russian Navy and Indian Navy. The upgraded Il-38 of the Russian Navy and Indian Navy are Il-38N and Il-38SD respectively. It’s internal and external storage includes conventional drop bombs, mines, depth charges (nuclear and conventional), anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.

The Indian Navy placed an upgrade contract for five aircraft in 2001. The programme is said to extend the operational life of the aircraft up to 15 years. The upgraded version is fitted with improved radar functionality, Sea Dragon (SD) avionics suite Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), targeting system and electronic intelligence (ELINT) system.

The SD standard upgraded version of the Indian Navy is believed to track 32 targets simultaneously, detect airborne targets at 90km and sea targets at 320km.

The Il-38SD is compatible with the 290km-range Russian/Indian Brahmos missile, as well as the shorter-range Zvezda-Strela Kh-35 and Kh-31A/P.

According to Naval Technology website, “The system consists of several sub systems, including an anti-submarine warfare, a search-and-rescue and ecological monitoring, an electronic support measures, a sea and land surface surveillance system. The new fully digital system comprises high-resolution radar, display, thermal imaging subsystem, infrared sensor, a magnetometer and an electronic intelligence (ELINT) system.”

In February 2017, Ilyush 38 Sea Dragon aircraft test-fired maiden anti-ship missile, post modification and midlife upgrade, as part of the Theatre level Readiness and Operational Exercise (Tropex-17).

Intelligence, Surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations help in MDA which allows understanding of position and intentions of all actors whether our own, neutral or hostile present in the seas and littoral regions. Intelligence on presence of foreign naval units including warships, submarines and aircraft enables a nation to keep a tab on their activities to discern the pattern of their deployment and movements and generate early warnings of the threats emanated.

Sustained surveillance is essential to MDA which covers activities taking place in all three domains – surface, under water and airspace. Says VAdm. Sinha, “Helicopters are more useful in anti-submarine roles since submarines are vulnerable to detection by helicopters which can use dunking sonars or sonobuoys. With its limited range and weapon carrying capabilities, it carries more of ASW weapons and few short-range anti surface missiles. The 24 multirole MH-60R helicopters being bought from the US are advanced weapon-sensors platform. Considering our large numbers of ships which can carry helicopters, the requirement for multirole helicopters would be much more. It gives the fleet commanders at sea ability to sanitise the area through which the fleet is expected to transit.”

Indian Coast Guard (ICG) also carries aerial surveillance using shore-based aircraft and helicopters. These aerial platforms sanitise large areas of sea. Helicopters operating from the deck of ships also undertake surveillance. The aircraft and helicopters are equipped with sensors and weapons to monitor and combat unlawful activities at sea.

In 2016, then defence minister Manohar Parikkar had cleared a proposal to develop six indigenous surveillance planes for the coast guard. The planes to be used for the project would be the C-295 transport aircraft to be built by Tata-Airbus consortium. The planes would be fitted with sensors to scan deep across the maritime boundaries with Pakistan and would also be built to detect any suspicious movement towards Indian waters.

The maritime boundary dispute between India and Pakistan is primarily centred on Sir Creek which is a 96km water body emptying out into the Arabian Sea from the Rann of Kutch. The concept of sea borders is relatively complex and difficult to work around.

The ICG stepped up surveillance and deployed more assets (ships and aircraft) for patrolling after the Sri Lanka Easter bombing in 2019.


Dornier 228

Dornier 228, a multirole platform, is the most advanced aircraft in its class. It is operated for maritime patrol (pollution control, search and rescue, border control and fishery patrol), surveillance and reconnaissance. Powered 2 x Garrett (later Honeywell) engines, Dornier is a short-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. The Indian Navy is procuring 12 Dornier aircraft with improved sensors and equipment including glass cockpit, advanced surveillance radar, electronic intelligence, optical sensors and networking capabilities. Apart from India, Dornier operators include Italy, Bangladesh, Thailand, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Angola and the Netherlands.



Call us