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, its top commander has said.
According to the naval chief, Admiral RK Dhowan, it was imperative to expand its "maritime surveillance footprint to meet operational requirements" with 12 Boeing P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft, nine yet to be identified medium range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft and 12 Dornier-228 short range maritime reconnaissance (SRMR) aircraft.
"The induction of these aircraft will provide the Indian Navy with the required surveillance capability in support of our operational roles," Admiral Dhowan told India Strategic magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) in an interview.
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 will be exercised.
Sources said that this could happen in the first half of 2015.
The 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.
Notably, the Indian Navy lacks a modern submarine fleet while the number of possibly hostile submarines in the Indian Ocean has multiplied manifold in recent years.
Accordingly, there is an urgency to strengthen at least the aviation arm with aircraft and helicopters.
On this Navy Day Dec 4, the navy selected the US Sikorsky's multi-role helicopter (MRH), a weaponised platform, for shipboard operations. Twentyfour of these helicopters are to be acquired, including an option for eight more.
Based on Boeing's workhorse B-737 civil aircraft, the P8-I is a variant of the 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 EW systems and a highly-sophisticated radar from US defence technology giant Raytheon. There are also magnetic anomaly detectors (MAD) on board to locate submarines. A MAD system works out variations in the earth's
magnetic fields by the underwater movement of submarines.
The LRMR and MRMR are being sourced from foreign vendors while the SRMR - Dornier 228 - would be acquired from state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which has been producing them under licence for a couple of decades. Sanction for these aircraft has already been accorded by the new Government.
As for the old and existing fleet of 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".
He observed that the Indian Navy was looking at two operational aircraft carriers 24x7, one each on the country's eastern and western seaboards. A third would also be needed because of the periodic maintenance any one of them would have to undergo.
For the Soviet-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 which have already been delivered and are operational. INS Vikrant, earlier called Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-1 (IAC-1), would be deployed in 2018.
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 these into the force development plan. We would look for infusion of newer technologies with regard to propulsion and launch recovery arrangements for the aircraft," Adm. Dhowan said.
The currect aircraft launch technology from carriers is based on steam catapults.
Significantly, the EMALS, developed by US General Atomics, is based on the massive generation of direct current (DC) electricity and the technology is stated to be useful even in launching satellites or firing projectiles into space.
"The naval air arm is poised for significant growth as part of our 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 the operations of fighters and helicopters operation from the two carrier task forces and associated support ships," Adm. Dhowan said.
India's naval aviation marked its 61st year in 2014.