The first three P-8Is at Boeing's Seattle facility this morning, where the first aircraft was handed over to the Indian Navy
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Dec 12
The Indian Navy got a significant boost today with the receipt of its first P-8I multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA). In a small ceremony at the Seattle facility of Boeing Defense, Space and Security (BDS), a ribbon was cut and an Indian Navy officer was ceremonially handed over the keys to the aircraft.
The Indian Navy’s US $2.1 billion purchase of eight P-8I aircraft makes it the first military outside the US to operate this aircraft. With cutting edge sensors and weaponry mounted on a modified Boeing 737-800 aircraft, the P-8I will maintain “maritime domain awareness” over the Indian Ocean. For the navy, this means knowing exactly what is happening on its oceanic turf.
Based on INS Rajali, a naval base at Arakonam, near Chennai, the P-8I will fly 8-hour missions to seek out pirates, suspicious cargo vessels, or hostile warships and submarines. Its enhanced internal fuel tanks allow it to fly 1,100 kilometers to a patrol area, remain “on station” for six hours, and then fly back 1,100 kilometres to Arakonam. Using aerial refuelling, this range could be doubled.
The P-8I’s key strength lies in its sophisticated sensors. A multi-mode radar picks up aircraft, surface ships and submarines. Another belly-mounted radar looks backwards, like an electronic rear-view-mirror. Any suspected threat could be investigated further: sonobuoys are dropped to zero in on suspected enemy submarines, radioing back any suspicious sounds that they pick up. A submarine would be picked up also by a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) on the P-8I’s tail.
There is plenty of heavy weaponry to deal with such threats. This includes anti-ship Harpoon missiles, and the Mark 82 depth charge that is standard equipment with the US Navy. To destroy enemy submarines, five Mark 54 torpedoes lie warm in a special compartment in the aircraft’s belly.
The P-8 aircraft being built for India are designated the P8-I (I for India), distinguishing them from the US version, the P8-A. The aircraft handed over today will remain in Seattle for the next 3-4 months, while Indian Navy crews carry out flight tests of all the systems and sensors. It is expected to fly to India by about May 2013.
Two more P-8I aircraft that are nearing completion will also be handed over in 2013, say Boeing spokespersons. The entire order of 8 aircraft will be delivered by 2015.
The navy plays an increasingly visible role in maintaining vigil over India’s 7,500 kilometre coastline and over the maritime stretch from the Strait of Malacca in the east to the Strait of Hormuz in the west. In August, then navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma revealed that, in addition to eight P-8I aircraft, the navy would also augment its surveillance and reconnaissance capability with eight Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft, and a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.