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Navy angles for spy planes

Eight new planes would replace the Russian-made TU-142 maritime surveillance aircraft, writes Sutirtho Patranobis.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2006 15:38 IST

The defence ministry intends to purchase more spy planes or long-range sea surveillance aircraft to strengthen the Indian Navy's aging bunch of aircraft monitoring its 7,500km-long coast.

For this, the Navy has floated requests for proposals to several companies, asking them to provide details of their products.

The eight new aircraft would replace the Navy's Russian-made TU-142 maritime surveillance aircraft, which were inducted in 1988. Besides the TU-142 aircraft -— not all of which are operational -— the Navy has one recently refurbished IL-38 maritime surveillance aircraft.

Five IL-38 aircraft were inducted decades ago in 1977. Two were lost in a crash in 2002 and the remaining two are being refurbished in Russia.

Meanwhile, India's short-range sea surveillance is being carried out by Dornier aircraft.

This is hardly an enviable position for a country with a long coastline and India needs to beef up its long-range surveillance capability.

Sea surveillance aircraft used by navies around the world are heavily loaded with weapons like air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. They have torpedoes as well to conduct anti-submarine warfare.

"We have asked companies to provide details of their products. We have mentioned our qualitative requirements, especially in terms of radars, electronic warfare suite, weapon capabilities and the capability to carry out anti-submarine warfare," sources said.

Two main contenders are PC3 Orion by the US company Lockheed Martin and the Russian-made IL-38.

he French Atlantique is also in the reckoning. An advantage with 1L-38, sources say, is that Navy pilots are well-versed in it since it has been in operation for nearly 30 years.

The companies would reply by April-end with their packages. Then the bargain would begin, particularly technical and price negotiations.

The aircraft could land in India by 2006-end, sources said.