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The Indian Navy’s quest to bolster its maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) fleet has hit a roadblock, causing delays in the procurement process. As the Navy bids farewell to its ageing Ilyushin-38 Sea Dragon aircraft, discussions surrounding the acquisition of new MPAs have encountered obstacles, raising questions about the future of this vital defence capability.

At a recent decommissioning ceremony held at INS Hansa in Goa, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar, along with veteran officers and sailors of the IL-38 squadron, emphasized the need for a modern and efficient MPA fleet. The Indian Navy is looking to replace its IL-38 aircraft with a more advanced and capable platform.

One of the contenders for this critical role is the Airbus C295 variant, intended to serve as a medium-range maritime patrol aircraft. However, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, has raised questions and concerns about the procurement of this aircraft, resulting in delays in its development.

Both the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have expressed their need for maritime patrol aircraft. The Indian Navy is seeking nine such aircraft, while the Indian Coast Guard requires six. The acquisition of modern MPAs is essential to enhance maritime surveillance, security, and defence capabilities.

Amidst these developments, a new contender has entered the scene. ATR, a Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer, is offering the ATR 72MP for the project. The ATR 72MP, developed by Alenia Aermacchi, is built on the ATR 72-600 platform, providing a cost-effective and reliable maritime surveillance solution for military forces worldwide.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not only placed a hold on the further acquisition of Boeing P-8I aircraft, which the Indian Navy was interested in but also appears to have reservations about the Airbus C295 variant-based MPA aircraft.

The Indian Navy currently operates a fleet of 12 Boeing-made P-8I planes, organized into two squadrons stationed in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu, and Goa. Plans to procure an additional six Boeing P-8I aircraft have been put on hold, further complicating the Navy’s efforts to modernize its MPA fleet.

The future of India’s maritime patrol aircraft procurement remains uncertain as discussions continue between the military and defence authorities. The Navy’s quest for advanced MPAs is a testament to its commitment to safeguarding the nation’s maritime interests, and resolving the delays is essential to ensure maritime security and surveillance capabilities are not compromised.

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