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Starting April, Indian Navy to induct four more P8I reconnaissance aircraft

According to officials, from April the navy will begin inducting four P8I aircraft worth $1.1 billion, orders for which were placed in 2016. This procurement is under an option clause as part of the earlier procurement of 8 P8Is between 2013 and 2015 worth $2.1 billion.

Last Updated: Feb 21, 2020, 10.42 AM IST
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P8I
Indian Navy's P8I
The Indian Navy’s P8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft had played an important role in gathering intelligence on Pakistani military deployments and keeping India’s western seaboard safe after the Pulwama attack last year. More than a year later, the navy will be inducting more such aircraft, boosting its capability to conduct sustained surveillance and anti-ship and submarine preparedness in the Indian Ocean Region.

According to officials, from April the navy will begin inducting four P8I aircraft worth $1.1 billion, orders for which were placed in 2016. This procurement is under an option clause as part of the earlier procurement of 8 P8Is between 2013 and 2015 worth $2.1 billion.

The navy also plans to procure six more P8Is under a different deal through the foreign military sales route between India and the US. The Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisition Council had cleared this procurement in November last year.

The P8I deals are a sign of India’s increasing weapons procurement from the US, which has touched $17 billion till date. It also comes in the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s India visit on February 24, which will focus on strengthening defence cooperation between the two nations.

Since induction six and half years ago, the P8Is clocked 25,000 flying hours in December last year, officials said. Based at INS Rajali, a naval air station in Tamil Nadu, the fleet is the navy’s eyes in the sky and gives it a significant edge in the Indian Ocean Region. It is used for coastal patrolling, search and rescue operations, anti-piracy and other military tasks. Its important features include anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship strikes and maritime surveillance.

“Based on the contract, the first of the four aircraft will be delivered in mid-2020 and the remaining three in 2021” a Boeing Spokesperson said.

The aircraft have also led to better synergy of the navy with the army and air force. “They have flown in support of the army and the air force. They flew during the Doklam standoff and in the aftermath of the Pulwama incident,” an official said.

After the Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF soldiers and around the time of the Balakot air strikes last February, the P8Is had conducted widespread reconnaissance over the Arabian Sea. The aircraft was also used to help the army during the 2017 Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese troops, as was mentioned by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat earlier this month.

According to officials, during peak winter last year, a P8I was deployed to monitor and classify two radar contacts moving in a formation towards Mumbai, which were detected by a drone along the Gujarat coast. “By first light, the P8I had indicated that these were two warships of a neighbouring country proceeding to Southeast Asia, completing the information loop in the operations room at Mumbai,” an official said.

The P8Is have also been instrumental in locating and tracking submarines operating in the IOR. They have also participated in several exercises with foreign navies. “Their enormous endurance of 10 hours and long operational range of over 4,000 km enable them to be our ‘Eyes in the Sky’ and have augmented the navy’s ability to keep all ‘Areas of Interest’ under continual surveillance,” the official said.

The P8I assessment of shipping traffic in important Sea Lines of Communication and choke points in the IOR is regularly provided to Indian Ocean Region-Information Fusion Centre (IOR-IFC) at Gurgaon.

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