Reviewing the Indian Navy's Boeing P8I
Boeing Aerospace has successfully completed the delivery of the first batch of its P8I long range surveillance aircraft ordered by Indian Navy. Indian navy had ordered eight P8I reconnaissance aircraft in a deal worth US $2.1 billion. Boeing has now completed the tender by delivering the eighth and the last aircraft to the Indian Navy. P 8I is a long range reconnaissance aircraft which is crucial for monitoring the vast waters which surrounds India. The deal included support systems and the weapons package for the aircraft. Impressed with the performance and the durability of the aircraft, Indian Navy has ordered another 4 aircraft under the follow on clause of the earlier issued tender. The navy has already requested DAC’s clearance for another 12 P8I aircraft.
The main stay of Indian Navy’s reconnaissance operations are Tu – 142 and IL – 38 aircraft. The navy operates eight upgraded Tu - 142 MKE (Tu 142 is a export variant of Tu 95 Bear ) for long range maritime mission and another five upgraded Il 38 SD for medium range maritime missions. These aircraft are drastically aging and have to be replaced with aircraft capable of handling sustained maritime missions. These aging platforms are expected to be replaced only after 2025, thanks to their timely mid-life upgrades.
The Tu – 142 aircxraft have recived extensive upgrades both in Indian and Russian factories. The aircraft now features the Israeli origin Elta 2022 Maritime surveillance radar. The Radar is capable of taking SAR images of sea surface. The Radar can detect low visible periscopes and very small size attack boats. The radar can detect contacts even flying at 39,000 feet. Onboard the aircraft is the MMS-106 Ladoga magnetometer which is capable of detecting even the slightest anomaly in ocean surface. However these days the magnetic detector is obsolete given the evolved submarine's hull magnetic signatures. The aircraft currently employs Kh – 35 missiles for AshM roles and in the future maybe fitted out with the deadly BrahMos.
The future of the Indian Navy’s reconnaissance platforms and missions will be based around the P8I aircraft. The heart of the P 8I is Raytheon AN/APY 10 Maritime surveillance radar. The AN/APY 10 radar is a multi-mission oriented system and can handle multiple operations under the same umbrella. The AN/ APY 10 radar is the only system of its type to provide ultra-high resolution imaging modes for maritime and overland operations. The radar thus delivers uncompromising performance in each and every operational environment. The actual range and target detection capabilities of the radar system remains classified.
The aircraft houses five advanced workstations onboard, each of these hosts separate management systems for seamless search missions. The P8I not only serves into the ASW mission but can also be employed as an airborne control center. The aircraft can direct fighter jets to designated targets and assist cruise missiles in terminal guidance. The P8I’s are also equipped with the latest countermeasure suites like Chaff and flare to spoof IR guided and Radar guided missiles. The aircraft also houses state-of-the-art electronic attack suite. The name and info about the EA suite remains classified. However it's not meant that the P 8I can't be shot downed by enemy fighter jets.
|Indian Navy Ilyushin 38 SD|
The P8I aircraft delivered to Indian Navy are a derivative of the P8A aircraft serving the United States Navy (USN). The P8A aircraft themselves were developed to replace the aging P3C Orion aircraft. P8A’s are considered to be almost three times more powerful than the Orion’s when detecting submarines and surface targets. The AN/APY 10 radar is derivative of the American variant and may have a degraded range capability. P8A are also believed to have been equipped with APS 143 Ocean Eye AFT radar for target search and surveillance options. Reports suggest the Indian Navy aircraft may have been equipped with an exported variant of Ocean eye.
Another System used in the P8I is the MAD - Magnetic anomaly detector boom. The MAD boom is used to detect the submarines by tracking the magnetic activities underwater. The latest submarines being designed employ hulls having zero magnetic signatures and thus a MAD is considered almost obsolete.
Another major system in the P8A is the Sonobuoys. The Sonobuoys are the only system which can detect deep submerged submarines. The exact information about the Sonobuoys is highly classified. The Sonobuoys can detect submarines acoustic signatures and transmit the data to the P8A through a secured data link. Sonobuoys also guide the air dropped torpedo's to hit the Target accurately.
|AN APY 10 Radar|
The aircraft can also act as a maritime bomber. By dropping torpedoes, mines and launching missiles the aircraft can hunt down both surface and submerged threats. The P8 A can drop heavyweight torpedoes even when flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet. The P8I can also lay mines across the sea line to trap enemy submarines inside protected zones. Each aircraft can carry four Harpoon anti shipping missiles for surface warfare.
The aircraft serving under Indian Navy have been retrofitted with several Indian sub-systems. US made IFF transponders and satellite communication systems were replaced to avoid any instances of eavesdropping in the future. BEL supplied its IFF transponders for Friend and Foe detection and Satellite communication system and data transmission links.
The P8I aircraft were given repeated missions during the search for MH-370 aircraft. The main mission of the P8I will however be to observe and patrol, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean for possible Chinese underwater threats. The aircraft is currently houses in INS Rajali at Arakkonam close to Chennai.