Under the $2.1 billion deal inked with US aviation major Boeing in January 2009, the second and the third P-8I aircraft will reach the naval air station INS Rajali in August and November, with the other five being progressively delivered by 2015. India, as reported by TOI earlier, is going in for a repeat order of four more P-8I in a contract worth over $1 billion.
Armed with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, these sensor and radar-packed aircraft will be the country's "intelligent hawk eyes" over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) that is increasingly getting militarized.
China has stepped up its submarine activity in the IOR as well as systematically forged extensive maritime linkages with eastern Africa, Seychelles, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan, among others.
With a maximum speed of 907 kmph and an operating range of over 1,200 nautical miles, "with four hours on station", the P-8Is will be able to detect "threats" — and neutralize them if required — far before they come anywhere near Indian shores.
Based on the modified 737-800 airframe, the P-8I is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon being built for the US Navy. "The P-8Is will be game-changers...Apart from long-range maritime reconnaissance, anti-ship and anti-submarine operations, they can also undertake anti-piracy and electronic intelligence missions," said a senior officer.
The P-8Is will work in conjunction with medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Israeli Searcher-II and Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to establish an effective three-tier surveillance grid in IOR. They will replace the eight ageing and fuel-guzzling Tupolev-142Ms currently with the Navy.
India is gradually bolstering military force-levels on the eastern coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Island archipelago to counter China's strategic moves in IOR. While IAF has launched plans to base Sukhoi-30MKI fighters at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the Eastern Naval Command has been strengthened with over 50 warships as well as new forward-operating bases.
The Navy also recently commissioned a new air station at Campbell Bay, INS Baaz, which overlooks the Malacca Strait as well as "dominates" the Six-Degree Channel. "The construction of additional bases and naval air stations in A&N Islands and Lakshadweep & Minicoy islands is necessary to extend our operational reach," said defence minister A K Antony, addressing the naval top brass on Tuesday.
Apart from taking care of its primary area of strategic interest stretching from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, India also has a vast 5,422-km coastline, 1,197 islands and 2.01 million sq km of Exclusive Economic Zone to guard against all threats. "The P-8Is will help in this," said an officer Times of India