P-8i: India’s Navy Picks Its Future High-End Maritime Patrol Aircraft
TU-142: headed out
India’s fleet of Soviet-era maritime patrol aircraft has been upgraded, but it needs to be replaced. Indian naval responsibilities are growing, and the 2008 terrorist atrocities in Mumbai made it crystal-clear that control of their coasts was a necessity. Fortunately, they already had a competition underway. In December 2005, after an attempted buy of Lockheed Martin P-3s fell through, India’s navy had floated an RFP for at least 8 new sea control aircraft. Bids from a variety of contenders, including Lockheed Martin, were submitted in April 2007. Subsequent statements by India’s Admiral Prakash suggested that they could be looking for as many as 30 aircraft by 2020.
The plan had been for price negotiations to be completed in 2007, with first deliveries to commence within 48 months. India’s Ministry of Defence has extreme problems with announced schedules, but their existing fleet was wearing out, international requests for India’s maritime patrol help are rising, and Mumbai’s events provided an extra shove. By January 2009, India had picked its aircraft: the 737-derivative P-8i Neptune, a variant of the P-8A that’s readying for service as the P-3’s successor within the US Navy. DID discusses the geopolitical drivers, the current fleet, the known competitors, Boeing’s P-8i, and key contracts and events:
With Growing Naval Power Comes Growing Naval Responsibility
The competition and refurbishment efforts are being given greater impetus by international developments. In February 2006, IPT reported that warning bells have been sounded at an international summit over the mounting terrorist threats to sea lanes around Indonesia and the Straits of Malacca, which serves as a choke-point for a significant percentage of global shipping. At a subsequent high-level meeting in the United States that included Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and others, Stratfor reported that India was asked to play a major policing role against sea-piracy in the region.
Successful procurement of modern maritime patrol aircraft would certainly expand India’s capabilities, as its naval responsibilities undergo rapid growth. To the west, India is also undertaking anti-piracy efforts on the East African coast, with a base in Madagascar and a recent military co-operation agreement with Mozambique that includes coastal patrol responsibilities.
Heron UAV, India
The Indian Navy currently relies on its fleet of around 15 Dornier 228-101 aircraft and 12 Israeli Searcher Mark II and Heron unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor India’s 7,516 km long coastline, 1,197 islands and a 2.01 square km exclusive economic zone.
Additional patrols and interdiction within and beyond that area are undertaken by its 8 ultra-long-range TU-142 Bear aircraft and its remaining IL-38 May maritime surveillance aircraft, which have been upgraded to IL-38SD status. The IL-38SDs was expected to rise to 5 operational planes the by end of 2008, but the planes have been a flashpoint for controversy due to a May 14/07 report from India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) which said that the first 2 are missing essential avionics and weapon systems that are “seriously limiting their operational capabilities.”
New resources are needed. At the low end, India is buying Dornier 228NGs. A mid-tier option is under consideration, but at the high end, India decided that the Boeing’s P-8i’s fast long-range cruise, and advanced ground and ocean monitoring systems, made it their best option for patrolling the Indian Ocean’s vast expanses.
India’s P-8is will be based from Naval Air Station Rajali, at Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu. It’s also the base for India’s current fleet of 8 Tu-142 ‘Bear’ aircraft, offering a long runway, and a southern location which increases the planes’ patrol coverage over the Indian Ocean.
P-8i: Program Timeline & Industrial Participants
P-8i concept, armed
In November 2005, India’s $133 million deal for 2 P-3C Orion maritime-optimized patrol and surveillance planes fell through on grounds of expense, support costs, and timing. Apparently, it would have taken 18-24 months for the US Navy to retrofit the aircraft to the Indian Navy’s specifications, once the lease had been finalized.
In response, December 2005 featured an RFP that sought 8 aircraft, and threw the competition open. Bids were received from various candidates in April 2006, and initial schedules involved a signed contract by the end of 2007, and deliveries by the end of 2009. Of course, that didn’t happen. A July 2007 Defense News report said that an Indian procurement team would be sending preliminary evaluations to the Defence Ministry by September 2007, which would lead to a short list. A preliminary decision and price negotiations were scheduled to begin “within two years,” i.e. by mid-2009.
Experience has demonstrated that price negotiations with India’s MoD can take years themselves – or even sink deals entirely, vid. the various collapsed deals for second-hand Mirage 2000 fighter jets. In this case, however, the $2.1 billion deal for 8 jets was done by January 2009. By October 2010, India’s Navy was pushing to extend the buy, and enlarge its fleet of Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft to 12. Now, senior naval officials are openly talking about buying 24 jets.
First deliveries aren’t expected until 2013 at the earliest, and the jets are expected to enter service “before 2015.”
Confirmed weapons at this time include the Mk-54 lightweight torpedo, which can be enhanced with the HAAWC kit for high-altitude, GPS-guided drops. India has submitted a formal DSCA request for these torpedos. For longer-range surface atacks, AGM-84 Harpoon Block II missiles are carried on external pylons. These sub-sonic cruise missiles can hit ships or land targets, thanks to a combination of GPS guidance, and improved radar resolution that can cut through near-shore clutter. Boeing reportedly has a license to export the longer-range AGM-84K SLAM-ER, which adds longer range and better land attack features, but India’s hasn’t formally requested them. Some pictures, like the one in this section, even show P-8Is carrying smart bombs. The P-8 is designed to be even more capable than its P-3 predecessor on overland surveillance missions, and adding weapons like GPS-guided bombs would give India a new capability for long-range, long-endurance surveillance and strike.
The P-8A has its own industrial team, and most of them will also be involved in the P-8i project. A number of electronic and sensor systems will differ, however, due to a combination of Indian insistence on indigenous content, and American security concerns that forced the use of alternatives. Industrial partners in India, or specific to India’s version, reportedly include:
According to Indian media reports, India’s 8-10 TU-142 Bear aircraft are being retired, after negotiations with Russia and Israel to retrofit them were called off. Invited bidders (and their relevant offerings) reportedly included:
Rosoboronexport (IL-38 “May” and TU-142 “Bear”, both currently in service)
India has shown interest in the Boeing 737-derived P-8A MMA. This P-3 Orion’s successor will feature long range, very advanced radars that will also be useful for ground surveillance and may have air-to-air uses; advanced electro-optics for day/night viewing, and an array of weapons and sensors that will include Harpoon anti-ship and land-attack missiles, torpedoes, sonobuoys, etc. All in a package that’s broadly compatible with existing global 737 commercial fleets.
The P-8A is not expected to be available before 2013-2014. Nevertheless, The Times of India’s sources in the Indian Navy believed that the P-8A would match the combined operational profile presently being executed by its existing fleet of Ilyushin Il-38 Mays and TU-142 Bears. Given the limited remaining lifetime of even the refurbished IL-38SDs, a long-term, long-range solution was attractive.
From the beginning, India has treated its potential involvement in the Boeing P-8 MMA program as a test of Washington’s long-term military and strategic commitment. Significant distrust remains in the wake of the USA’s 1988 embargo of military exports to India and Pakistan following underground nuclear tests – an embargo that was only lifted fully in September of 2004. While its timeline may pose problems, just having the P-8A offered and cleared for export has been the one of the biggest benefits India received from this RFP.T the Pentagon has also pledged to make additional technical military capabilities available to New Delhi as they enter US service.
In the end, Team Boeing submitted its proposal to develop and deliver 8 P-8I Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft variants, touting its commonality and supportability benefits (q.v. April 13/07 timeline entry). The proposal included the development of a unique Indian navy P-8 configuration, significant participation for Indian industry, test and certification activities, and 8 aircraft delivered over a 4-year period. Thanks to its combination of compatibility, range, technology, and the stability and future development guaranteed by US Navy orders, Boeing’s P-8i won.
The TU-142 Bear is the current incumbent. It was originally built as the TU-95 heavy bomber in the pre-jet era, before going on to a very long and successful career as the Eastern Bloc’s most important and longest ranging maritime surveillance and attack aircraft. A TU-142 can fly from Mumbai (Bombay) to Johannesburg, South Africa and back – without refueling. Bharat-Rakshak reports that 8-10 Bears remain in service with the Indian Naval Air Arm. Supplied to India in 1987-1988, all of them have been refurbished at least once.
Bharat-Rakshak notes that proposals had been floated to Russian and Israeli firms to significantly upgrade the TU-142 with the Leninets Sea Dragon common patrol suite, as well as other electronic enhancements useful for surveillance and even electronic warfare. Proposed Sea Dragon upgrades were rejected on cost and performance grounds, which led to discussions concerning an Israeli IAI Elta surveillance and communications package based around theAN/M-2202A radar used in Spain’s P-3C upgrades. These upgrades may even have been installed on at least one aircraft.
Russia’s smaller IL-38 had 2 big advantages. One was its recent refurbishment, and use by the navy. The other was the likely timeline for long-range replacement aircraft from Boeing or Airbus. Russia’s IL-38 May is about the same vintage as the P-3C Orion. Only 3 aircraft remain in Indian service from the original set of 5, after 2 of the aircraft were lost in an airshow collision. Unlike the TU-142s, however, the status of their upgrades is clear. India Defence reports that the first of 3 improved Il-38SD maritime anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft has been delivered to the Indian Navy following Russian upgrades that cost about $35 million per plane. Another 4 similarly upgraded IL-38SDs were scheduled for delivery to the Indian Navy by early in 2007, bringing the fleet to 7 – but the upgrades themselves have had problems due to poor delivery from DRDO.
The IL-38 upgrade includes the Leninets Morskoy Zmei (Sea Dragon) digital common patrol suite, which is designed to detect and intercept surface vessels and submarines as well as detect mines and carry out surveillance. Like the Israeli M-2202A, the suite can also detect airborne targets, and it can be linked to the Russian Glonass GPS satellite navigation system. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation has supplied the new IL-38SD’s electronic intelligence system, electronic countermeasures station system, digital firing decoys and radio communication system. India also plans to mount the medium-range PJ-10 BrahMossupersonic cruise missile on this aircraft in the near future.
The age of refurbished airframes had to be a concern for a long-term buy like India’s LRMR competition, but IL-38SD may have become an “interim buy” option, if India’s preferred choice was delayed or unavailable for other reasons. Russia reportedly submitted proposals based on its TU-142 and IL-38, but they were not compelling enough. India’s existing fleets will retire, without new additions or refits.
Even though India’s MPA competition began with the cancellation of aP-3C Orion order, Lockheed Martin could not be counted out. Their bid reportedly included a combination offer: 8 upgraded US Navy P-3C aircraft for $550-700 million; and 16 multi-mission MH-60R helicopters from Sikorsky costing $350-400 million.
The P-3 platform is in service with 15 nations, and Lockheed-Martin still hoped to reach 16 by adding India. A February 2006 Press Trust of India report quoted Lockheed VP Richard Kirkland as saying their bid will offer “P-3C Orions which have completely been refurbished with new wing-spans and tails to serve almost a life time of 20 years… We are offering the Navy the choice of sensors and equipment to be placed onboard and the configuration it wants either for long-range maritime reconnaissance or anti-submarine mode.”
The previous P-3C contract had been canceled due to long delivery times, but Lockheed has been taking steps to shorten that process. It opened a plant to manufacture new wings for old P-3C aircraft, as a way of keeping fleets flying in their 15 customer nations. The refurbished aircraft are already being delivered to the US Navy and to international customers, along with new composite-wing spans and tails.
Kirkland believed that shorter delivery time would be an advantage for Lockheed this time around, and September 2007 reports added that the lead time for a long-range P-8A or Airbus 319 solution had led to a second look at the P-3C as an interim option. In the end, that option faded, and the P-3C/MH-60R offer did not win the competition.
EADS’ maritime patrol offerings include EADS-CASA’s CN-235MP Persuader in service with a number of countries, and the twin-turboprop AT3 Atlantique offered as part of the SECBAT consortium (EADS, Dassault Aviation of France, Alenia of Italy, and SABCA-SONACA of Belgium). While these are capable aircraft, their range and payload limitations may make them a dubious contender to replace the TU-142. Further up the range scale, maritime variants of their ATR 42 and ATR 72 short-haul passenger turboprops are produced for some customers, and EADS also refurbishes and maintains Spanish P-3C Orion aircraft.
In the end, however, EADS’ primary offering was “none of the above.” A July 2007 Defense News report suggested that rather than using any of these proven designs, EADS wa leveraging equipment from those efforts to propose a maritime patrol variant of the Airbus A319 passenger jet for this competition. The design was not expected to become operational before 2014, however, which means that EADS’ shorter-range options could have become relevant again if India’s Navy sought an interim buy as part of a package deal, or wanted to complement its forces with medium range aircraft from the same source.
Airbus and Boeing both made substantial investments in India, and both looked into partnering with Indian companies to jointly develop communications, data-link and identification friend-or-foe (IFF) equipment as part of their bids. An Indian order would launch the A319 MPA as a serious international contender, and help underwrite the cost of developing the aircraft at a time when projects like the A350 and A400M are squeezing Airbus’ cash and financing capacity. Unfortunately for Airbus, what it saw as opportunity, India saw as risk. The A319 was considered very seriously, but it did not win.
There were reports in April 2005 that India might be interested in a modified MPA based on Dassault’s high-end Falcon 900 business jet. Though the platform was absent from most subsequent coverage, the reports turned out to be true.
In September 2007, IANS reported that Israel Aerospace Industriesand its subsidiary Elta Systems had submitted a proposal based on this jet, leveraging Elta systems extensive experience with naval radars and other surveillance systems, and IAI’s experience converting business jets into surveillance platforms. The tri-engine Falcon 900 may be a business jet, but it’s known as a VIP class offering with a lot of space and a long 4,100-4,500 nautical mile (7,600-8,330 km) unrefueled range.
The Falcon 900 is many things, but ‘cheap’ is not one of them. Bid prices could easily approach those of larger aircraft like the refurbished P-3Cs, which complicated IAI’s odds of being selected as an interim solution. On the other hand, Israel has deep relationships of its own in India, and IAI’s Heron and Searcher II UAVs could allow IAI to offer an integrated manned/ unmanned surveillance system that costs far less than higher-end options like the P-8A/BAMS, and offers proven aircraft/UAV integration that can be added to larger aircraft like the A319 or P-8A later on.
The biggest advantage of a solution based on a business jet would be operating costs. The biggest disadvantage is lack of space, which means fewer sensor and weapon options. In this case, the fact that India would be the team’s first customer also added substantial risk to the choice. India did not need an interim option, and saw Boeing’s P-8i as a more attractive option.
Listed, But Not Submitted
Some manufacturers were included in the tender, but did not submit a bid.
Nimrod MR2 via NATO
BAE Systems’ modernized Nimrod MRA4 program received consideration from the USA as a replacement option for its P-3C Orions, but pressures for standardization with the global civil air fleet and a desire for a “made in America” solution pushed them to adopt the 737-based P-8A instead. A British program was begun in 1996 to rebuild their existing Nimrod Mk2 fleet to the MRA4 standard with new wings, engines, internal systems, and mission systems. Unfortunately, that program faced a series of budget cuts, stalls, and conditions before getting a go-ahead for 12 aircraft in July 2006.
The entire program was questioned in Britain’s 2010 strategic review, and the program was ultimately scrapped with 1 aircraft fully ready and 4 of the remaining 8 being 90% ready. But knowing that would require clairvoyance, and refurbishing very old airframes, all of which are essentially custom built, was always a dubious option for India. In the end, the Nimrod was not even bid.
Northrop-Grumman, which has held discussions with India around its E-2D Hawkeye 2000 carrier-capable AWACS aircraft, is also listed as one of the solicited companies by the India Defence report. The only asset they have which would fit the maritime surveillance category, however, is the RQ-4 Global Hawk High-Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) UAV. The Global Hawk is slated for a Maritime Surveillance role with the USA and Australia; indeed, a “Pacific pool” approach similar to the NATO E-3 AWACS model, and involving The USA, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand, has been proposed.
It certainly has the range. A demonstration flight using a smaller RQ-4A Global Hawk took off from Adelaide, Australia and spent loiter time over Japan and Singapore before returning to Adelaide. While the Global Hawk lacks the payload capacity for sonobuoys, missiles, etc. possessed by all other contenders, the prospect of joining other friendly countries and sharing in the resulting intelligence data from all over the Pacific might still be very interesting. If pursued in combination with the P-8is, it would give India a combination similar to the US Navy’s P-8A/ RQ-4N BAMS. If pursued alone, it would sharply blunt India’s long-range offensive capabilities once the TU-142s were retired; but if this was seen as a bridge until the P-8A’s arrival, the intelligence benefits could make the proposal very attractive. Nevertheless, media reports did not list Northrop Grumman among the RFP respondents.