The Indian Navy will get its additional P8I submarine killer, maritime reconnaissance aircraft starting July 2020, with work being initiated at the Boeing facility here to deliver an updated version of the combat plane.
The boost to the Indian fleet will come at a time when the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which has been growing at a scorching pace over the past decade, is projected to have over 70 submarines in service.
India, which already operates eight of the long range sea patrol aircraft, has placed an order for an additional four planes in July this year and the Navy has shared an undisclosed list of upgrades and new features that it requires on the new planes, a senior Boeing executive has shared.
“We are looking forward to delivering the options in the July 2020 timeframe. We also have a long list of upgrades that the Indian Navy is interested in, we are working on that,” Mark Jordan, Chief Engineer of the P8 program said.
While the Boeing official did not share details of the upgrades being discussed, the Indian Navy is also likely to contract for a simultaneous upgrade of its existing fleet of eight plans to the latest standard. The P8 aircraft are being flown by the US Navy and Australia has got deliveries of its first aircraft last week. In addition, the Royal Air Force is also placing an order for the unique maritime patrol and combat aircraft.
One of the projects being worked on the aircraft – which is equipped with Harpoon anti shipping missiles – is to give it the capacity to take in fuel while flying. While the Indian P8Is are equipped with aerial refueling system, it was not a contracted requirement from the Indian side.
Boeing officials said that the P8 planes are likely to be certified for aerial refueling by next year, giving a tremendous increase in range for maritime missions. While India does not have a tanker that is capable of refueling the P8I, it can take in fuel from American tankers – missions that have been made easy with the recent signing of a logistics sharing pact between the two nations.
India has been using its P8I fleet extensively for missions ranging from patrolling and spotting passing submarines and ships to search missions in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. Large scale search missions were recently carried out by the aircraft in search of the missing An 32 transporter off the Chennai coast. India is also looking to placing some aircraft at the Andaman islands to give them more reach to patrol regions of interest.
While 12 P8Is are now contracted by the Indian Navy, Boeing is hopeful for more orders with a top executive saying that the Indian side has expressed its willingness to look at adding additional planes in the future.