The Indian Navy has decided to exercise its option for an additional four Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft in a bid to boost its maritime patrol capabilities as well as counter piracy threats and the growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.
In a deal expected to range between $1 billion to $1.5 billion, the new aircraft will be in addition to the eight the Navy had ordered in January 2009, for about $2.1 billion. The new contract price is also expected to include the cost of aero-structures and avionics.
“The Indian Navy has received the necessary government approvals and has decided to go ahead with the contractual processes to acquire four additional P-8I aircraft under the options clause,” Commander PVS Satish, public relations officer for the Indian Navy told The Economic Times.
According to sources, Boeing has already submitted its draft offset contract to the defence ministry last week. “The government is considering exercising the option of adding four P-8I aircraft,” Dr Vivek Lall, vice-president, Boeing Defence, Space & Security told ET. The P-8I, which is based on the Boeing next-generation 737 commercial airplane, is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon that the defence vendor Boeing is developing for the US Navy. India is the first international customer for the P-8 platform.
The first of the eight P-8I aircraft, which were bought through the direct commercial sales route with Boeing, are expected to be delivered to India within 48 months of the original contract signing. The aircraft are of supreme strategic importance for India’s naval forces, with the country looking to enhance its role in the high seas.
Further, the global community has been clamouring for India to play a more dominant policing role against sea piracy in the Straits of Malacca, which is one of the busiest commercial and military sea-routes in the world, and along the East African coast.
Also, in the ongoing scramble for sea power in the world’s thirdlargest ocean, India has been desperate to stop what it perceives as a growing Chinese hegemony in the region. Separately, Boeing has also submitted a reply to the Navy’s Request for Information for six medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft as well.
However, ministry sources did not confirm whether any of the other global defence vendors had responded to the same.
Others expected to be in the running for the contract include Russia’s Ilyushin, France’s Dassault and EADS . Like most defence deals pursued in India, the acquisition of the MRMR aircraft has followed a long and tortuous route. With the original global Request for Procurement issued in 2008, before the Mumbai attacks, the same was later scrapped by the defence ministry on certain technical grounds.
The current RFI also specifies the aircraft should be able to carry out electronic intelligence gathering and counter-measures, besides maritime patrol and search and rescue within an operational envelope of 350 nautical miles or almost 650 kilometres, as well as a patrol endurance of at least three and a half hours.
There are additional requirements that the aircraft be capable of carrying at least two anti-ship missiles and a jamming pod. As with the P-8I, the navy has specified in the RFI that certain pieces of equipment must be indigenous, like Identification Friend or Foe Interrogator with Secure Mode, MSS Terminal, BFE, Datalink and Speech Secrecy Equipment and vendors must indicate their commitment to integrate this equipment into the aircraft.