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Indian Navy Maritime Reconnaissance

Maritime surveillance capability is a critical component of maritime security, both in times of peace and conflict, and plays a crucial role in the security of the Maritime Zones of India, as also of the vast coastline. Acquisition of Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft is also being progressed concurrently.

In February 2001 it was reported that Russia was preparing to lease India four TU-22M3 Backfire long-range bombers armed with the KH-22 cruise missiles having a range of 500 km. There were also reports that the Tu-22M3 offered to India for the maritime attack role would be armed with the conventional anti-ship Kh-15A (export designation Kh-15S) missile. The Backfire has a combat of 2,400 km, though the bomber could be upgraded with mid-air refueling to extend the range to 5,000 km.

Tu-142 F

The Indian Navy spent in excess of $500 million to upgrade its fleet of eight Russian Tu-142 F maritime reconnaissance strike aircraft. As of 2002 a new plan called for modernizing the aircraft to operate anti-ship missiles, advanced navigation equipment and electronic warfare systems to create a link between India's nuclear command center and its nuclear submarines. The upgraded aircraft would be dubbed the Tu-142J.

The Indian Navy's eight Tu-142M long-range maritime reconnaissance/ASW aircraft were all fitted with ELTA-supplied EL/M-2022(V)3 multi-mode search radars. The last two of the eight aircraft were declared operational with the new belly-mounted radars in December 2008 and as a result, these eight platforms would remain in operation until at least 2016. However, by 2018 it would become cost-prohibitive for the Tu-142M to remain flightworthy. The program to upgrade its eight Tu-142Ms by Russia fell through in 2004 due to an estimated cost of US$888 million.

Russia's Taganrogskaya Aviatsiya (TAVIA) created an updated Tu-142M, designated the Tu-142MSD. This service life-extension package could result in a reduction of the Tu-142M's direct operating costs, along with re-lifing the airframe and a re-engining package that included new-generation propellers, and a glass cockpit, such upgraded Tu-142M could remain in service until around 2026.

In 2009 India sent a request for proposal for the purchase of eight Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft (MRA) to overseas vendors. The RFP to replace the Indian Navy's retiring fleet of eight Tupolev Tu-142s came after the Indian Navy turned down the US Navy's offer of leasing two P-3C Orions, because the 18-24 month retrofit would be too expensive.

The Indian Navy is expected to decommission the Tupolev Tu-142M aircraft which have been in service since 1988 as the 312nd squadron and deployed in anti-submarine warfare and patrol missions across the Indian Ocean. "The Albatross, due to their phenomenal maritime reconnaissance (MR) capabilities, have been spearheading the Navy's MR effort ever since and are among the finest aircraft of their kind in the world in addition to being the fastest turbo-props," said an Indian Navy statement. Only three aircraft are in service as the Navy had started the gradual phasing out with the induction of eight P8I multi-mission aircraft. Four other P8Is would be available by 2020.


India's need for Maritime Surveillance Aircraft intensified on 02 October 2002 when two IL-38s, which is a combination of Il-18 airliner and the IL-20 reconnaissance model, crashed during a demonstration. After their overhaul in 1996, the two IL-38s had been expected to remain in service until 2015. The crash reduced India's Maritime surveillance fleet to three Il-38s and eight Tu-142s. By 2007 the Il-38 fleeet was expected to remain in service through the year 2020.

The IN was reported to be interested in acquiring up to two more Il-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft. This acquisition was to bolster the depleted fleet of Indian Navy maritime reconnaissance planes. The new planes to be purchased would be the upgraded version of the aircraft fitted with advanced Sea Dragons digital common patrol suites. New procurement was necessary as existing Indian Navy surveillance assets were deemed insufficient to monitor the country's vast 7,516 km coastline, 1,197 island territories and 2.01 million square kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone.

Boeing P-8I Poseidon

In November 2006 the Indian Navy expressed an interest in the Boeing P-8 Poseidon Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA), which is a modified Boeing 737-800ERX, as a replacement for its existing fleet of IL-38 aircraft that were nearing the end of their service life. By August 2007 India had completed evaluations of a maritime patrol derivative of the Airbus A319 and the Boeing P-8 Poseidon in support of the Navy requirement for eight anti-submarine aircraft.

Other bidders for the deal were Israel Aerospace Industries and Elta Systems with a Dassault Falcon 900 business jet derivative, Lockheed Martin with a remanufactured P-3 Orion, and a Russian consortium with the Ilyushin Il-38. As neither the P-8 nor the A319 derivative actually existed at that time, the flight trials conducted in the US and Spain involved simulations, flying leased commercial Boeing 737 and A320 family aircraft on representative flight profiles, and mission system evaluations using US Navy and Spanish air force P-3s. EADS Casa offered its FITS mission system, which had been installed in Spain's upgraded P-3Bs.

By November 2007 the Ministry of Defence had shortlisted two competitors - Boeing's P-8 and the Airbus Industrie A319. By the end of 2008 India was poised to conclude its biggest-ever defense deal with US: the around Rs 8,500-crore contract for the supply of eight Boeing P-8I Long-Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft for the Navy. Virtually all the steps required for the contract to be signed, including tabling of it in the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval, had been completed.

On 01 January 2009 the UPA government signed the biggest-ever defence deal with US: a $2.1 billion contract for eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft for the Navy. The deal was signed by Preeti Sudan, Indian Defence Ministry's Joint Secretary and and Boeing integrated defence systems vice-president and country head Vivek Lall.


In the wake the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in a deal valued at $600 million, India purchased from Israel an aerostat radar system to help defend the country's coastline. The Indian Navy acquired two aerostat radars from Israel to fill vital gaps in the coastal security setup [the IAF already operated two aerostat radars and had ordered four more]. The new Navy radars would be deployed in strategic points to provide advance warning against incoming enemy aircraft and missiles. The EL/M-2083 Aerostat radars are a simpler version of the Green Pine radar, made by Israel Aerospace Industries, and used by the Arrow missile defence system. The phased-array radars are mounted on tethered aerstats, at a maximum altitude of 13000 feet, and are capable of detecting intrusions at longer range than ground based radar systems, providing 3-D coverage in a radius of 500 km.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The Indian Navy recognized the superior persistence and surveillance capabilities of unmanned assets and factored their induction. The Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle squadrons on the West Coast were fully operational by 2011 and a new squadron on the East Coast commissioned in 2012. The technological advancements on the unmanned platforms incorporating improved sensors would enhance the coverage of the Area of Operations and such features have been factored as future drivers of growth.

Medium-Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR)

By mid-2006 the Navy planned to shortly replace its Islander fleet with 11 new HAL-built Dornier aircraft. As of mid-2007 the Indian Navy (IN) had around 13 remaining Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders it acquired around 1976. At that time the IN was in the process of transferring two BN-2 'Defender' Islander maritime surveillance aircraft to Myanmar, an add-on to the pair it had supplied in August 2006. The BN-2 "Defender" Islander airplanes was stripped of all weapons and used solely for relief and humanitarian missions.

By mid-2008 eight of the 11 more Dornier-228s, ordered for Rs 726 crore to act as medium-range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft, had joined the Navy.

Future requirements for the Navy called for the procurement of Medium-Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft that should also be capable of ASW, while the Coast Guard also required MRMR aircraft, with no ASW capability. Aircraft proposed for the Navy's MRMR/ASW were the turboprop ATR-72MP & C-295MPA, and Dassault's Falcon 900MPA & Embraer's P-99A jet-powered platforms. For the Coast Guard the ATR-42MPA Surveyor and C-295 or CN-235MPA are being proposed.

A Request For Information (RFI) was sent out for eight aircraft, but entry into service would likely take place only after 2015. The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) request for medium range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft for the Indian Navy, requirement did not require for the aircraft to necessarily have anti-submarine capabilities but the aircraft should be capable of anti-surface vessel operations, even being equipped with some form of anti-ship missiles.

While Boeing has proposed a “simplified” variant of its P-8I Poseidon for the role, new aircraft under consideration include the AirTech CN-235MP/MPA Maritime Patrol Aircraft with the two manufacturers, CASA EADS in Spain and Dirgantra in Indonesia, proposing to supply the aircraft with different mission systems. The Spanish developed CN-235 MP Persuader is fitted with the Northrop Grumman APS-504 (V) 5 radar, the Indonesian developed CN-235 MPA with either the Seaspray 4000 from BAE Systems, the AN/APS-134 from Raytheon or the Ocean Master 100 from Thales.

In addition, the Indian Coast Guard’s requires six to nine aircraft of ‘medium’ category but with no offensive equipment. The RFI issued in 2010 announced a diverse range of missions including search and rescue, environmental monitoring, pollution control and medical evacuation.

US-2i Long-Range Amphibious Aircraft

Economic ties between India and Japan were reinforced with the two countries expected to clinch a $1.65-billion defence aircraft deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the island nation in august 2015. Under the agreement, Japan would supply at least 15 ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft, designed for air-sea rescue, and which can also be used for civilian purposes, to the Indian Navy. The deal would mark Japan’s entry into India’s lucrative, multi-billion dollar defence equipment market, dominated by the west.

The proposed deal could possibly include joint production, operation and training on the US-2 amphibious aircraft. These planes, built by ShinMaywa Industries, could be outfitted for firefighting or as a kind of amphibious hospital and cost an estimated $110 million per unit. The plan is to deliver two aircraft and then assemble the rest of the planes with an Indian partner, the sources added.

Both Tokyo and New Delhi had finalised the agreement for sale of the fleet of aircraft used by Japan’s military to India. This would be the first complete defence product to be exported from Japan in more than 40 years. The aircraft was also being pursued by Malaysia and Indonesia, both of which have island territories spread across their EEZs.

During his visit to Japan, Modi was expected to hold a series of meetings with Japanese government functionaries including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and captains of Japanese industry. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP. Currently, the prominent features of the economic partnerships between India and Japan are an over $20-billion two-way merchandise trade that is supported by an all-inclusive free trade pact inked in 2011 and substantial Japanese involvement in high-profile infrastructure projects like the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the western dedicated freight corridor.

“If the ShinMaywa US-2 is exported to India for civilian use, that would be the first case of exports of Japanese-developed weaponry used by the defence ministry for civilian use,” said a senior officer.

Indian Navy would acquire 12 Japanese Shinmaywa’s long-range amphibious aircraft US-2i for an approximate $1.65 billion under a government-to-government deal announced 26 July 2016. The US-2i aircraft would be procured under the ‘buy global’ clause of the Defence Procurement Procedure, government sources were quoted as saying by Financial Express. The deal, which is going to be government-to-government, was changed from ‘buy and make global’ to ‘buy global’ after amendments were made to two chapters of the DPP, and subsequent rounds of discussions with the industry association.

The deal found mention in the interaction between the two nations’ defense ministers in New Delhi earlier in July. The Defense Minister of Japan Gen Nakatani was paying a bilateral visit to India at the invitation of Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar. The two ministers held the annual Defense Ministerial Meeting on 14 July 2016 in New Delhi. A senior officer was quoted as saying that, “The plan to Buy Global would be sent to the Defence Acquisition Committee in a couple of months before any formal decision is made. Also, there will be a 30% offset clause that the Japanese side will be signing.” The deal, which has an approval of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, was waiting for an acceptance of necessity (AON) from the Indian Navy.

On 07 November 2016 it was announced that India would purchase 12 amphibious rescue aircraft from Japanese manufacturer ShinMaywa Industries worth $1.5 billion-$1.6 billion. Japan and India had been holding talks on the purchase for two years. It would one of Japan's first sales of military equipment since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a 50-year ban on arms exports and it reflects growing defence ties between the two countries.

In April 2018 Mahindra Defence Systems, part of the Mahindra Group, signed a pact with Japan-based ShinMaywa Industries for manufacturing and assembling of amphibious aircraft ShinMaywa US-2 in India. In a statement, Mahindra said that both companies have entered into the partnership with a view to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services in India and also undertake manufacturing, assembling of structural parts & components for US-2 amphibian aircraft etc. Mahindra Group President for Aerospace & Defence Sector SP Shukla said: "This partnership between two companies familiar with the aviation business is positive especially for MRO and maintenance services in the Indian defence aerospace sector. Our partnership will enable us to leverage our strengths and consequently this will contribute to growing Indian aerospace ecosystem."

The long-pending deal for 12 amphibious military aircraft was not signed during the December, 2019 meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe. The planes are not on the Indian Navy’s priority list with the force facing a budget crunch. “There is no doubt that the Japanese amphibious aircraft is a good product that the Indian Navy wants. But there is a priority list based on the budget constraints and, currently, the aircraft is not high on the priority list,” a Navy source told ThePrint.

It was initially understood that some surveillance technology would be provided or transferred. However, Japan later backed out because the technology was critical and the deal could be seen aversely in Japan as the country transferring arms technology. The plane would only be used for SAR (Search and Rescue) by the Andaman Nicobar command. The MoD was not willing to shell out 2 billion dollars when other programs needed the funds. With full technology transfer and licensed assembly of the aircraft in India, the price was even higher. Some sources lcaimed the main difficulty was the fact that there are no Indian companies able to handle such a large project.

Unmanned Air Vehicles

India showed interest in the procurement of military drones from General Atomics in 2015, which was declined by the Obama administration. A modified proposal was re-sent to the US after the Trump administration amended rules in 2017 that restrict the sale of military-grade drones to foreign partners like India. In June 2017, the US cleared the sale of 22 unarmed MQ-9B Guardian UAVs to India for maritime surveillance. However, the Indian Navy is not keen on taking the deal forward as it is particularly interested in the armed version of the drone, which the US is reluctant to share.

The Indian government resisted American pressure over the purchase of state-of-the-art armed Predator-B drones, also called the MQ-9 Reaper, during the October 2020 2+2 ministerial-level dialogue in New Delhi. The proposal, which the Trump administration made in 2017, was valued at around $3 billion. Financial constraint was one of the major reasons behind the decision, and India was still evaluating the advantage that the armed forces can receive from these drones. The inhibition against American armed drones comes as India unveiled its most secretive armed drone "Ghatak" ("Lethal").

ANI reported 25 November 2010 [Indian Navy inducts two American Predator drones on lease, can be deployed on China border] that the Indian Navy had inducted two MQ-9B “Sea Guardian” drones on lease for carrying out surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region and which can also be deployed along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh. The American-origin drones had been inducted by the Navy under the emergency procurement powers granted by the Defence Ministry in view of the India-China border conflict. The drones arrived in India in the second week of November and were inducted into flying operations on November 21 at Indian Navy base at INS Rajali.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 14:50:40 ZULU