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Indian Navy strengthening air warfare capability, says Admiral Dhowan

New Delhi. The Indian Navy is working towards a new fleet of aircraft and helicopters for maritime surveillance, electronic warfare and anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare.

Naval Chief Admiral RK Dhowan told India Strategic in an interview that it was imperative to expand the Indian Navy’s “maritime surveillance footprint to meet operational requirements” with 12 Boeing P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR), nine MRMR (Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance) and 12 Dornier 228 Short Range Maritime Reconnsaissance (SRMR) aircraft.

Boeing Delivers Sixth P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft to India
Seattle. Boeing delivered the sixth P-8I maritime patrol aircraft to India, on schedule, on November 24, arriving at Naval Air Station Rajali to join five others being used by the Indian Navy.
The P-8I is part of a contract of eight awarded in 2009. The final two deliveries are scheduled for 2015.
“The P-8I’s arrival in India is another key milestone for the program and marks our final delivery of the year,” said Dennis Swanson, vice president, Boeing Defense, Space & Security in India. “The Indian Navy is currently conducting missions with the first five aircraft, and this newest P-8I will begin flight trials in the coming months.”
Based on the company’s Next-Generation 737 commercial airplane, the P-8I is the Indian Navy variant of the P-8A Poseidon that Boeing builds for the U.S. Navy.
The P-8I incorporates not only India-unique design features, but also Indian-built sub-systems that are tailored to meet the country’s maritime patrol requirements. The P-8I features open systems architecture, advanced sensor and display technologies, and a worldwide base of suppliers, parts, and support equipment.
“We have a great partnership with India, which has helped us keep the program on schedule and on budget,” said Mark Jordan, Boeing P-8 International program manager.
In order to efficiently design and build the P-8I and the P-8A, the Boeing-led team is using a first-in- industry, in-line production process that draws on the company’s Next-Generation 737 production system. P-8I aircraft are built by a Boeing-led industry team that includes CFM International, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Spirit AeroSystems, BAE Systems and GE Aviation.
Boeing has been active in India for 70 years with its commercial airplanes providing the mainstay of India’s civil aviation sector. More recently its military aircraft have started to play an important role in the modernization and mission-readiness of India’s defense forces. Boeing is focused on delivering value to its Indian customers with its advanced technologies and performance driven aircraft underscored by life-cycle support services. Boeing is also committed to creating sustainable value in the Indian aerospace sector – developing local suppliers, pursuing business partnerships and shaping research and technical collaborations with Indian companies and institutions.

“The induction of these aircraft will provide the Indian Navy with the required surveillance capability in support of our operational roles.”

At present, Boeing has a contract to supply eight P-8Is, six of which have been delivered on schedule beginning May 2013 and the last two should be in India by mid-2015. There is an option clause for another four aircraft in the existing contract, and the Navy Chief’s remarks indicate that this is going to be exercised.

Sources said that this could be done in the first half of 2015.

Aircraft Specifications

Admiral Dhowan said that the Naval Air Arm, which marked its 61st anniversary in 2014, is poise for significant growth as part of the Navy’s capability development plan. “The naval aviation acquisition is aimed at supporting fighter and integral helicopter operations from the two Carrier Task Forces…This includes 12 P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft. We have also initiated the process to acquire 12 Dornier SRMR and nine MRMR aircraft.”

Qualitative Requirements (QRs) for the MRMR aircraft are being finalized but they would have capabilities similar to the LRMRs except that their range would be shorter. The Dorniers would be used for Electronic Warfare (EW) to secure one’s own communications and disrupt those of an enemy.

UAVs and UCAVs

Pointing out that there is due emphasis on UAVs also, the Admiral said: The aviation arm of the Navy is an integral, active component of the naval force. It provides the Navy with essential air power at sea, in the entire range of operational activities.”

About the UAVs, he said that the vast expanse of our primary areas of interest posed a challenge in terms of surveillance and reconnaissance , and UAVs are important to maintain vigil. The Navy has been utilizing Heron and Searcher UAVs (Israel-origin) and their squadrons have been commissioned at three places in Kochi, Porbandar and Ramnad.

“Additional UAVs are planned to be inducted” including the indigenous Rustom being developed by Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO)’s Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) “on successful completion of its development trials.”

As for carrier-borne UCAVs, they are still in conceptual stages. The Navy, he said, would continue to engage DRDO and its Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) “for progressing the naval UCAV variant.”

Notably, the Indian Navy lacks a modern submarine fleet while the number of possibly hostile submarines in the Indian Ocean has multiplied manifold in the recent years. There is an urgency accordingly to strengthen at least the aviation arm by aircraft and helicopters.

Multi Role Helicopters

On this Navy Day December 4th, the Navy selected Sikorsky’s Multi Role Helicopter (MRH), a weaponised platform, for shipboard operations. Twenty four of these helicopters are to be acquired, inclusive of an option for eight.

There are plans for a larger number of similar multi role helicopters as well as Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), and their total numbers could eventually touch or exceed 200.

The Formidable Boeing P-8I

Based on Boeing’s workhorse civil 737 aircraft, the P8-I is a variant of US Navy’s latest P-8A Poseidon. It was described by Adm Dhowan as a very potent platform with long range capability to neutralize hostile ships and submarines with its Harpoon Block II missiles, depth bombs and torpedoes. The aircraft has formidable onboard electronic warfare (EW) systems and a highly sophisticated radar from US war technology giant Raytheon.

There are also Magnetic Anomaly Detectors (MAD) systems onboard to locate submarines. A MAD system works out variations in the earth’s magnetic fields by underwater movement of submarines.

The P-8I has radar coverage 360 degrees, thanks to a second radar installed in the rear as per Indian Navy’s requirements.

The LRMR and MRMR are being sourced from foreign vendors while the SRMR – Dornier 228 – would be acquired from HAL which has been producing them under licence for more than a couple of decades. Sanction for these aircraft has already been accorded by the new Government.

As for the old fleet of existing Sea King and Kamov helicopters, the Naval Chief said that they were being upgraded with “a sophisticated sensor suite” to “enhance (their) surveillance and attack capabilities of ships at sea.”

Three Aircraft Carriers

He observed that the Indian Navy was looking at two operational aircraft carriers 24 x 7, one each on the eastern and western seaboards of the country. A third would be needed because of the periodic maintenance by any one of them.

For the Russian-origin INS Vikramaditya, which is already operational, and for INS Vikrant, which is under construction indigenously at Kochi, the Navy is buying 45 Mig 29K aircraft from Russia, about half of whom have already been delivered and are operational. They are a generation ahead in capability than the old Mig 29s that are with the Indian Air Force (IAF) acquired from the late 1980s onwards.

INS Vikrant, earlier called Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1), would be available in 2018.

For the IAC-2’s aircraft, a fresh tender would be floated in due course and the best possible technologies relevant for induction around 10 to 15 years from now would be considered. IAC-2, he expressed the hope, would be available 10 years after its specifications are frozen and the wotk begins.

The Navy also has plans to induct naval variant of the HAL-made indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), development work on which is going on.

EMALS and Aircraft Recovery

Admiral Dhowan said that the Navy is also working on specifications for a third aircraft carrier – IAC 2 – which would be much larger – say 60,000 tonnes-plus – and every possibility, including nuclear propulsion and the latest Electromagnetic Launch System (EMALS) which the US Navy has selected for its future aircraft carriers is under consideration. “We are monitoring the latest developments and will factor the same into the force development plan…We would look for infusion of newer technologies with regard to propulsion and launch/ recovery arrangements for the aircraft.”

The currect aircraft launch technology from carriers is based on steam catapults.

Asked about collateral benefits emanating from newer technologies, he observed that technological spinoff from defence technologies has been a recurrent theme over the ages, and that always happens. Nonetheless, “we would look for infusion of newer technologies with regard to propulsion and launch/ recovery arrangements for the aircraft.”

Significantly, the EMALS, developed by US General Atomics, is based on the massive power of Direct Current (DC) electricity, and the technology is stated to be useful even in launching satellites or firing projectiles into space.

Concluded Admiral Dhowan: “The Naval Air Arm is poised for significant growth as part of the Navy’s capability development plan… In the coming years, I envisage a deployable force-level of two Carrier Task Forces, one each on our Western and Eastern seaboards. The naval aviation acquisition programme is aimed at supporting fighter and integral helicopter operations from the two Carrier Task Forces and associated support ships.”