Approving a deal worth $2.42 billion, The U.S. State Department has agreed to the sale of 6 additional Boeing P-8I Neptune Maritime Patrol Aircraft for India. The request for procuring the aircraft was made in 2019 when the then Defence Minister of India Rajnath Singh cleared the procurement of these aircraft, but the order was downsized from an original quantity of 10. Here is a detailed report on what will India get by the procurement of the Poseidon aircraft.
The need to procure the P-8:
The Boeing P-8 is a modified version of its commercial counterpart, the Boeing 737-800ERX to carry out maritime patrol missions against Submarine and Surface assets. Developed as a replacement for the legacy P-3 Orion, the first aircraft entered in service with the United States Navy (USN) with the Patrol Squadron 30 (VP-30) based at NAS Jacksonville, FL on 4th March 2012. Initially the aircraft was equipped legacy systems, which were soon replaced with modern equipment. It wasn’t until 2014 that the aircraft attained full-scale production due to delays in testing and evaluation. In 2013, the P-8A proved its capability when it successfully fired an AGM-84 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missile against a target, scoring a direct hit. It was not after another six tests that the aircraft was certified “operationally effective, operationally suitable, and ready for fleet introduction.”
The aircraft ordered underwent an Increment 1 upgrade in 2014 and Increment 2 upgrade in 2016, which feature improved ASW capabilities, improved sensor suite and addition multi-static active coherent acoustics, an automated identification system, and high-altitude anti-submarine weapons respectively. A 3rd increment programme was announced in 2020, which would upgrade the American P-8A to conduct “net-enabled” Anti-Submarine Warfare duties.. As per a report released in 2014, the P-8 programme saved the U.S Navy of $2.1 billion worth additional costs as per 2004 estimates. The amount of aircraft ordered were halved in 2015, from 16 to 8 aircraft per year mainly due to commercial and export sales of the Boeing 737 and the P-8, as well as U.S. Governments commitment to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.
India and the Poseidon:
The early 2000s decade saw the Indian Navy looking for alternatives for replacing the ageing fleet of Tupolev Tu-142 aircraft. The Tu-142MK-E’s entered service with the Indian Navy in March 1988 to cater to Anti-Submarine Warfare role. The 142’s were subsequently retired from service at INS Rajali in 2017. In January 2009, the Indian government signed a contract worth $2.1 billion to procure 8 P-8I aircraft from Boeing. The P-8I is an export variant of the P-8 aircraft specifically modified for India. The P-8I has components which the U.S. Naval P-8’s lack, which is not limited to, but includes Telephonics APS-143 OceanEye aft radar and a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD). India eventually became the first export customer for the P-8 aircraft. The deal also marked the first sale of military aircraft to India by Boeing. As of 2020, the Indian Navy operates 9 P-8I’s with another 9 on order, including 3 examples from an earlier order. If the sale comes through without any hindrances, India would likely become the second-largest operator of the P-8 aircraft following the U.S. Navy.
The P-8I’s of the Indian Navy eventually saw some action during the 2017 Doklam standoff with China and also to monitor Pakistani assets during the 2019 Indo-Pakistani standoff.
Interestingly, the P-8I was also deployed to monitor PLA activities during the recent Ladakh Standoff, an year-long (and still continuing) military contention at their Himalayan borders.
What does the P-8I offer for the Indian Navy?
The P-8I comes with it’s own set of exclusive equipment. As per official statement by the U.S. Department of State “The Government of India has requested to buy six (6) P-8I Patrol aircraft; eight (8) Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Joint Tactical Radio Systems 5 (MIDS-JTRS 5) (6 installed, 2 spares); forty-two (42) AN/AAR-54 Missile Warning Sensors (36 installed, 6 spares); and fourteen (14) LN-251 with Embedded Global Positioning Systems (GPS)/Inertial Navigations Systems (EGIs) (12 installed, 2 spares). Also included are CFM56-7 commercial engines; Tactical Open Mission Software (ITOMS) variant for P-8I; Electro-Optical (EO) and Infrared (IR) MX-20HD; AN/AAQ-2(V)l Acoustic System; ARES-1000 commercial variant Electronic Support Measures; AN/APR-39D Radar Warning Receiver; AN/ALE-47 Counter Measures Dispensing System; support equipment and spares; publications; repair and return; transportation; aircraft ferry; training; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, software, technical, and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support,”
The P-8I would play a vital role in execution of area-denial in case a conflict breaks out in the maritime realm. The Poseidon, combined with the Kilo-class and Scorpene class SSK’s to mount constant patrols along contested regions to prevent any enemy submarines from seeping into Indian waters. The importance of the P-8 aircraft for India is constantly rising due increasing number of submarines being inducted in the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the past few years.