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Indian Navy to upgrade air reconnaissance capability

India's P8I Poseidon aircraft. A Boeing photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): India Tuesday took a major step towards upgrading its Navy's maritime air reconnaissance capability and amphibious warfare strength by deciding to order four each of P8I Poseidon aircraft and Landing Pontoon Docks (LPDs) totally worth over USD 5 billion.

The four P8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft will be an add-on to the eight that India ordered from the US in January 2009 for USD 2.1 billion or nearly Rs 10,000 crore.

These four aircraft from the US aerospace major Boeing's stable would cost India about USD 1 billion (less than Rs 5,000 crore).

The four LPDs, on the lines of INS Jalashwa that India bought from the US for USD 50 million in 2007, would come at a cost of Rs 16,000 crore and a global tender would be issued for its under the Defence Ministry's 'Buy and Make' production policy. Under this, India would make the warships through license from a foreign firm.

The 17,000-tonne Jalashwa, formerly USS Trenton, is an Austin class amphibious warfare ship that can carry about 1,000 fully armed army men and has four beach landing craft and six helicopters.

The two decisions were taken at the meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister A K Antony and attended by the three armed forces chiefs and the defence secretary this evening, ministry sources told PTI.

The decisions come close on the heels of Antony and Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma's visit to the US last week when they had met the American security top brass to discuss both business and defence cooperation.

Now the proposals for both these purchases would be sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for clearance, the sources added.

With the purchase of four more P8Is, Navy will operate a total of 12 of these aircraft that would plug a major gap in its capabilities to keep an eye on adversaries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), in which China has been making significant forays in the last one year citing anti-piracy operations.

The Poseidon will provide the Navy with an option of a long-range reconnaissance mission in the entire maritime domain in IOR that India has been claiming to be its area of responsibility.

Currently, though, Navy is woefully short of maritime surveillance platforms, operating eight aging Tu-142 turboprops and five Ilyushin-38s (upgraded in recent years), both of Russian origin.

It also has Israeli 'Heron' and 'Searcher-II' unmanned aerial vehicles to perform the same role, but at shorter distances.

Modeled on Boeing 737 commercial airliners with cruise speeds of 445 knots, the P8Is can also perform anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles, as they will be armed with torpedoes, depth chargers and Harpoon missiles.

These aircraft have a mission range of 600 nautical miles and six hours of loitering time. Along with mid-air refueling capacity, their range could be extended further to 1,200 nautical miles.

The first of the P8Is are expected to be delivered to the Navy by Boeing in 2013 and the rest to follow in the next six years, the sources said.


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