P-8I Neptune: Indian Navy’s long range maritime recon aircraft

The P-8I Neptune is an aircraft designed for long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It is capable of broad-area maritime operations. It is a derivative of the Next-Generation 737-800. It combines superior performance and reliability with an advanced mission system that ensures maximum operational capabilities in the future battle space.

The P-8I aircraft is based on the Boeing Next Generation 737-800 aircraft. The forward section of the under-fuselage houses an internal weapons bay. The wings are fitted with hardpoints for carrying air-to-surface missiles. The aircraft measures of 39.47m in length, has a wingspan of 37.64m and is 12.83m high. The maximum take-off gross weight of the P-8I is around 85 tons.

In 2009, India signed a US$2.1 billion deal with Boeing for the supply of eight P-8Is to replace the Navy’s aging Tupolev Tu-142M surveillance aircraft. Each aircraft has an average cost of about US$220 million. In late 2010, Government of India approved the purchase of four additional P-8Is, bringing the total number of aircraft to 12. India plans to order another 12 P-8Is at a later time.

The P-8I aircraft can fly at a maximum speed of 789 km/h at a maximum altitude of 12,496m. The aircraft has a maximum range of 2,222 kms with four hours on station. This exceeds the navy’s requirement in the Request for Proposal (RFP) that asked for a radius of action of 600 miles with a time on station of six hours. The range can be further boosted by mid-air refuelling.

The flight crew of the P-8I comprises of a pilot and copilot. However for missions, it needs an additional team of 7 to monitor the radar and weapons systems. The cockpit is integrated with primary flight display, multifunction displays, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), flight management system and stores management system.

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The P-8I is intended to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and shipping interdiction and to engage in an electronic intelligence (ELINT) role. This will involve carrying torpedoes, depth charges, SLAM-ER anti-ship missiles, and other weapons. It will also be able to drop and monitor sonobuoys. The aircraft is equipped with a CAE AN/ASQ-508A magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) system, APS-143C(V)3 multimode radar and a global version of the Raytheon APY-10 surveillance radar. The APY-10 radar provides precise information in all weather, day and night missions. The internal weapons bay can house Mark 54 torpedoes, depth charges and free-fall bombs. The under-wing hardpoints can be armed with air-to-surface missiles. In December 2010, India requested a sale of AGM-84L Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles and associated equipment. The Harpoon Block II carries a 226kg blast / fragmentation warhead. It can be fired against land and sea targets.

MAD is dry or a non-acoustic sensor which notices the disturbances in Earth’s Magnetic field, both natural and artificial. The artificial changes are brought by the passage of a large ferrous body such as ships, submarines, planes etc through the Earth’s magnetic field.MAD systems detect this disturbance to locate a submarine

The P-8A does not feature MAD Systems as the US Navy decided against having the system on its P-8A. US Navy wanted to increase the range and endurance of their P-8As, as they have to take regular survelliance patrols over South China Sea, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and even Indian Ocean to keep a check on Chinese Submarines. Dropping the MAD system from its P-8As, reduce the weight by almost 2000kgs. This significantly did increase the range of the P-8A Poseidon. Moreover, P-8A does have advance acoustic systems to detect submarines. So, dropping the MAD system will not impede the submarine detection capability of P-8A.

The Indian Navy does not need to take long surveillance patrols. Indian Navy’s capability and necessity is limited over Indian Ocean along with some nearby water bodies like Malacca Strait. So, Indian Navy did not needed to increase endurance and range of their P-8Is, but to detect Chinese subs, it sure needed advance submarine detection systems like MAD and Telephonics APS-143 OceanEye aft radar, both of which are not present in P-8A.

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The plane is not just meant for the Navy, by that what I mean is with Indian Military looking at sort of joint structure to increase interoperability and maximum utilisation of assets, the P8I will integrated with the Indian Navy and IAF assets, including fighters, AWACS and ground station. This increases its area of influence and certainly increases the impact of a single station in the area. All three arms plan to undertake joint exercises to improve on this, with the latest exercise with P8I participation being Theatre level TROPEX 2017 which included assets from the Indian Air Force, Indian Army and the Indian Coast Guard exercise together.

The first aircraft arrived in India on the 15 May 2013 and as of date; all eight aircraft have been inducted into the Indian Navy and are fully integrated into its operations. All of them are based at INS Rajali and under the banner of INAS 312 A. 4 more platforms are on order and yet to come to the country.