India purchased eight P8I aircraft from the USA in a $2.1-billion deal and negotiations are on to buy four more. Six of these aircraft have already arrived at the naval base INS Rajali at Arakonam on the Tamil Nadu coast. The remaining two would come next year.
In 2012, the Navy commissioned INS Baaz – India’s eastern-most air station in the Campbell Bay. Dornier and islander aircraft now take off from its 3,500 ft runway. The Navy plans to extend the runway length to 6,000 ft so that P8Is can be flown from that station.
“After the runway extension, we would like to position some of the P8Is in the Andaman. It will be advantageous for us. However, it would not be a full-fledged base for the aircraft,” Navy Chief Admiral R K Dhowan told Deccan Herald on Wednesday. The US-origin aircraft has a range of 8,600 km and an endurance of 10 hours.
The planned move dovetails into the Navy’s future vision of expanding its reach beyond its traditional eastern limit at the Malacca Strait to protect national maritime interest. “We have the necessary assets,” he said.
He echoed the same line as his predecessor Admiral D K Joshi, who had stated that the Navy was prepared to protect the ONGC oil exploration vessels in the disputed South China Sea.
But Dhowan’s assertion assumes significance because it comes in the wake of a joint statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama, in which they “expressed concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes and affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”
Dhowan said Navy’s operational readiness was at the highest as the time of patrolling at sea has increased by 50-75 per cent, when India’s naval presence was felt from Vladivostok to Australia to Hawaii and Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya sailed non-stop from Russia to Mumbai.