In a clear sign that India enjoys lofty status in the United States’ strategic calculus, navies of both the countries are on track to simultaneously induct a cutting-edge warplane that will considerably improve their anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare capabilities.
The P-8A Poseidon, a military derivative of Boeing's 737-800 commercial aircraft and christened P-8I for Indian Navy, will provide strategic blue water and littoral undersea warfare capabilities as well as armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the two navies.
Not known for its flexibility to part with latest generation of technology, the US has no reservations about India deploying an identical submarine hunter to sharpen its maritime surveillance capabilities.
Richard Buck, international manager for Boeing’s P-8A programme, told Hindustan Times, "The US Department of Defense takes time to offer latest technology to another country. But India and US will deploy the P-8A/I around the same time".
The Indian Navy is buying eight P-8Is to replace its ageing fleet of Soviet-era Tu-142s. Worth some $2.2 billion, it will be the biggest Indo-US defence deal so far. The two sides are close to concluding negotiations and the first airplane is likely to be delivered to India within four years of signing of the contract. The P-8A will serve as replacement for the US Navy’s P-3C Orion fleet. The US Navy plans to purchase 108 production P-8As.
After Boeing IDS (Integrated Defence Systems) submitted its bid in 2006, Indian Navy officials were given a demonstration of the P-8I last June on a P-3C Orion testbed for systems and sensors, C-40 Clipper (a military version of the Boeing 737) for handling and a leased 737-800 for flight trials. Buck said the Indian Navy was excited about the product and its capabilities.
Flight tests of the aircraft are scheduled for 2009-end. The programme is currently in the system development and demonstration stage and the US Navy plans to deploy its first operational squadron by 2013.
Gung ho about the P-8A, the US Navy says it will provide more combat capability from a smaller force and less infrastructure while focusing on worldwide responsiveness and interoperability with traditional manned forces. The aircraft is expected to fly beyond 2050.
The underbelly of the dual-cockpit P-8A, capable of high rates of descent and short-field landings, has a bomb bay for torpedoes and launching tubes for sonar listening buoys. It can carry cruise missiles, bombs and mines. Boeing IDS officials say the aircraft maximises use of off-the-shelf hardware and software, which leaves ample scope for indigenisation of sub-systems.