The Indian Navy will start to receive additional P8I submarine killer, maritime reconnaissance aircraft from July 2020.
The work of providing India with an updated version of the combat plane is being initiated at the Boeing facility in USA, Economic times reported today.
The boost to the Indian fleet follows at a time when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), is advancing very fast over the past decade.
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 said.
“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.
Though 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.
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.
Though the Indian P8Is are equipped with aerial refueling system, it was not a contracted requirement from the Indian side. "The P8 planes are likely to be certified for aerial refueling by next year, boosting its range for maritime missions," Boeing officials said. While India does not have a tanker that is capable of refueling the P8I, however it can take in fuel from American tankers missions that have been made convenient 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.
Indian has recently used this aircraft for large scale search missions 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.