Admiral R Hari Kumar, the Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, has publicly expressed interest in ordering another aircraft carrier of the Vikrant type. Boeing is also working to resurrect the plan to acquire six additional P-8I long-range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs), while the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing medium-range MPAs based on the Airbus C-295.
The Indian Navy’s existing aircraft carriers, INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, will be supplemented by a second Vikrant class vessel. Admiral Hari Kumar noted that Cochin Shipyard (CSL), which constructed INS Vikrant, has gained significant experience and skills, emphasizing that “constructing an aircraft carrier is not a minor task.” The suggestion is that the time required to develop and finalize a larger CATOBAR-equipped aircraft carrier design, as initially envisioned by the Navy, would result in the current expertise at CSL and other companies diminishing. The expedited construction of an existing design with increased indigenisation and other enhancements would help lower costs and achieve the goal of a three-carrier fleet.
The Indian Navy plans to indigenise many components onboard the existing two aircraft carriers, which would be incorporated into the third from the outset. This includes the arresting gear system, which was sourced from Russia’s Proletarsky Zavod, and the restraining gear used for launching aircraft, currently procured from Russia’s RAC Mig. Development of three of each of these systems is expected to be completed by 2028. An import ban on Precision Approach Radar for aircraft carriers will be in effect from 2031.
Several components related to the MiG-29K fighter will also be indigenised. This includes the Multi Function Display, Integrated Standby Instrument System, tyres, ground support equipment, chaff and flares. Efforts will also be made to achieve self-sufficiency in repairs of the MiG-29K landing gear, self-protection jammer, oxygen generation system and Optical Locator Station.
In late September, Boeing made a proposal for the procurement of six additional P-8Is by the Indian Navy. The plan is to increase the P-8I fleet to 18 aircraft by 2032, which would create further indigenisation opportunities within India’s aerospace and defense sector, adding $1.5 billion to the economic impact of $1.7 billion created by the existing fleet.
“Boeing’s commitment to advancing the Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision drives our dedication to the P-8I fleet. As we respond to the Indian Navy’s need for more P-8I aircraft, we’re actively looking to enhance engineering, manufacturing, and sustainment capabilities in India, for India, and the world, benefiting both Indian and global customers,” stated Salil Gupte, president of Boeing India.
Since its induction in 2013, India’s P-8I aircraft has surpassed 40,000 flight hours. Boeing has collaborated with Indian MRO firm Air Works to conduct airframe heavy maintenance inspection of the first batch of eight P-8Is. Boeing also has a P-8I supplier network in India consisting of over 15 firms. The Indian Navy is looking to indigenise the P-8I with tyres, chaff and flares to be procured from indigenous sources in the future. The integration of Indian munitions is also expected eventually.
The Airbus C-295 transport aircraft is envisioned to be modified by DRDO to meet the Indian Navy’s requirement for around nine Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft along with a requirement from the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) for about six Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMMA).
While the P-8I acts as a long-range MPA, the shorter-legged MRMR would feature substantially higher indigenous content. The avionics, sensors and C-295 aircraft will be procured from India. Tata Advanced Systems is on contract to build 40 C-295 aircraft (out of a total order for 56 aircraft) for the Indian Air Force, with the same facility expected to cater to future Indian Navy and ICG orders.
It remains unclear if the Indian Navy would go for additional P-8I aircraft which has been pegged at about $2.5 billion, while the under-development MRMR would be much more cost-effective for many of the missions currently executed by the P-8I.
Further, the impending order for 15 MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAS from General Atomics, along with 16 SkyGuardians for the IAF and Indian Army for over $3 billion, may also dull the chances for the P-8I with its cost and indigenous content viewed to be relatively low. However, the Navy’s satisfaction with its performance, which saw it deployed even overland along the Line of Actual Control with China, maybe the reason for Boeing’s renewed push.
The Indian Navy is currently operating two MQ-9Bs, which have been leased and were recently displayed to the media. These UAVs are equipped with the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E V2 AESA radar, which is mounted on the underbelly. The Indian Navy has extensively used these long-range, high-endurance UAVs, which serve as a complement to the P-8I fleet. The 15 SeaGuardians that are expected to be added to the fleet will be optionally equipped with armament, ASW sensors, and other equipment. These UAVs will be supplemented by Indian Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) and High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs, which are currently under development.
These acquisitions, worth several billion dollars, will be spread over a number of years and will complement the procurement of submarines, surface combatants, and fighter aircraft. The Indian Navy is also placing a strong emphasis on the development and deployment of uncrewed assets of various types.