Sunday, 26 January 2014

Pentagon report on the P-8A: Indian Navy’s new submarine hunter is ineffective

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Jan 14

An unexpected and worrying question mark has been placed over the Indian Navy’s expensive new Boeing P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA), which were bought to allow the navy to monitor the Indian Ocean and to destroy enemy submarines that it detected.

According to a Bloomberg news report, the US Department of Defense (Pentagon) has found that the US Navy’s version of the aircraft, the P-8A, is ineffective at both surveillance, and in detecting and destroying submarines.

Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons inspector, has reported that the P-8A “is not effective for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission and is not effective for wide area anti-submarine search”, according to Bloomberg, which cites Gilmore’s annual report on major weapons.

The Indian Navy, which has bought eight P8-I aircraft for US $2.1 billion, is Boeing’s first international customer for this platform. Its cutting-edge sensors, radios and submarine-killing weaponry are integrated onto a special Boeing 737 aircraft, giving it the endurance to fly 1,100 kilometres to a patrol area, remain “on station” for six hours, and then fly back to base.

Yet the Pentagon’s report, which has not been officially released, points out flaws in the aircraft’s radar performance, sensor integration and data transfer. It says that current version of the P-8A had not overcome “major deficiencies” identified in combat testing in 2012-13.

Contacted for a response, the Indian Navy and the MoD did not reply. The Boeing Company has declined to comment, stating that the Pentagon report had not been officially released. The US embassy in New Delhi did not respond to an emailed request for comments.

For Washington, as for New Delhi, this news is worrying. The first P-8A of 117 that the US Navy plans to buy was deployed to Kadena, in Japan. It is operating along with others in the tense maritime environment of the Sea of Japan, tracking Chinese submarines. The three P-8Is already delivered to India (with five more due to come by 2015) are based at Arakonam, near Chennai, to watch over India’s 7,500-kilometre coastline and the ocean stretch from the Strait of Malacca to the Strait of Hormuz.

In November, the US Navy had declared the P-8A ready for combat deployment, while admitted that the US Navy had developed “software upgrades to correct deficiencies.” Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, who commands the US 7th Fleet, backed the P-8A, stating on January 10 that it “represents a significant improvement” over the P-3 Orion, which it replaced in the US fleet.

The P-8I’s sensors include a Raytheon multi-mode radar to detect aircraft, ships and submarines, while another belly-mounted radar looks backwards, like an electronic rear-view-mirror. When a submarine is suspected, the aircraft drops sonobuoys into the water, which radio back suspicious sounds. A “magnetic anomaly detector” on the P-8I’s tail also detects submarines. The P-8I can destroy ships and submarines with Harpoon missiles, Mark 82 depth charges and Mark 54 torpedoes mounted on the aircraft. 


Anonymous said...

cannot be true. Forget about IN's buy of a handful of P8s... USN would buy 100 P8s for a untested platform.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I am wrong but wasnt our planes to have Indian equipment & s/w?

Anonymous said...

This is the problem when we don't pay attention to indigenous programmes. We know Russians are delivering obsolete equipment and never stick to time schedules. On the other hand, you just cant trust Americans.We just keep wasting our money

Anonymous said...

After the devyani incident of stripping. US has stripped p8i of potency.

Mihi Dase said...

Scary & dis heartening

Anonymous said...

Hi ajay.
I don't believe this is a case of alarm. The American P8 have inherently deleted a very important piece of equipment that is the MAD array which the Indian navy has kept. reason is the higher patrol speed of the platform makes it unsuited for sea level ASW work. they have instead tried to rely on a sensor fusion mix with a hydrocarbon sensor as the primary detection capability. Lessons to be learnt here are dedicated platforms are expensive but preferable for specialized tasks aka f35 m0ment

Broadsword said...

@ Anonymous 09:34

Could you please explain that in greater detail. If you'd rather not do it on a public forum, plz email me at


Raj said...

Anon 9:34,

Please elaborate your argument. The technical understanding of the aircraft and the issue seems quite lacking across the discourse.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ajay,
this Anon@9:34
I will compile the list of equipment and sensor bank vs the civilian aircraft loiter time, and send you the mail. I believe L3 or raytheon will be in the running for a new suite if the current one fails.
In any case it P8 deal was a shock for lockmart looking to peddle an upgraded a turboprop on the upgraded orion. Its a shocker that they selected a jet because world over turboprops are the preferred choice due to loiter time vs sea-level interdiction as well as the four engines reliability over sea

Anonymous said...

As per the zero loss policy of prof. Sibal p8i would be converted to civilian configuration and leased back to US. Thereby earning revenues. No loss only gain.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9 34 is correct the american version boasted a higher sophistication but was not completely proven plus they were concentrating on weight reduction but like all bought of tech this was not going to be in our control so IN demanded the conventional systems like MAD to be integrated in the new system also they had issues with transfering their datalinks etc so the Indeginous equipment was used even if the new suite dose not work the syatem has conventional methods.

Vivek said...

Ajai sir,

The original DOT&E report is out and the actual findings don't quite mesh with what the Bloomberg article claims. Please check you mail for a copy of the same.


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