Indian surveillance and anti-submarine capabilities over the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean region will get stronger when the second batch of the Indian Navy’s Boeing P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft will land at INS Hansa in October.
The arrival of the multi-role aircraft from the US will enhance the aerial balance and sub-surface surveillance in India’s favour, naval officials said. The Indian Navy currently operates eight P-8I aircraft that are based at INS Rajali, Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu, and this will be the first P-8I to be based on India’s west coast.
The aircraft is expected to arrive in the first week of October from Boeing’s facility in Seattle and will be based at INS Hansa.
Hansa is the base where the Indian Navy’s tryst with maritime surveillance began. According to naval officials in Delhi, after landing at INS Hansa, the P-8I will fly to INS Rajali for a temporary deployment.
The Indian Navy ordered eight P-8I jets in January 2009 and after seeing the aircraft’s performance, a follow-on order for four more aircrafts was placed in 2016. This is the first aircraft from the follow-on contract.
“It is a multi-role aircraft as it can track and even attack submarines and surface ships. It is a very potent aircraft and a generation ahead of Pakistan, which is still with the P-3 Orion, a turboprop aircraft,” former chief of naval staff admiral Arun Prakash said.
With a maximum speed of 789 kmph and an operating range of over 1,200 nautical miles, the P-8I is also a leap ahead from the Ilyushin Il-38 (IL 38) that the navy operates from Goa.
“This aircraft flies at 40,000 ft which gives it a longer range and this means that India’s area of influence is much bigger. We must remember that we have hegemonic and expansionist neighbours,” captain (retd) D K Sharma said.
The deployment of the P-8I comes against the backdrop of China’s repeated forays into the Arabian Sea under the guise of anti-piracy operations. Beijing has established a presence at a string of ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran and east Africa which could pose a threat to India.
Though the P-8I is a long range maritime surveillance aircraft, it has also been deployed during the on-going standoff with China in Ladakh as well as during the 2017 Doklam standoff. The Indian Navy has also deployed the P-8I for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations during cyclones.