India – US Defence: Another Mega Deal for P-8I Submarine-Hunting Aircraft to be Inked

Defence Industry

New Delhi: The $2.42 billion deal with the US for six more advanced P-8I submarine-hunting aircraft is now close to be inked by India. With this the total value of lucrative Indian defence contracts bagged by Washington in the last 15 years will be reaching around $25 billion.

Last week, the State Department and Pentagon notified the US Congress about the impending deal for the six P-8I aircraft and related equipment to India. “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia regions,” said the notification.

Under the earlier $3.2 billion contract, Indian Navy has already inducted nine of the 12 P-8I aircraft, which are packed with radars and armed with Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, The rest three are slated for delivery by this year-end.

The P-8Is are manufactured by Boeing and are primarily meant for hunting and destroying enemy submarines in the Indian Ocean Region. Ever since the military confrontation with China erupted in eastern Ladakh in May last year, India has been extensively using the P-8Is, with their advanced electro-optic sensors, to keep tabs on the movements and build-ups of the People’s Liberation Army along the land borders.

The six new aircraft to be acquired now will have more advanced systems unlike the first 12 P-8Is, as a result of India signing the COMCASA (Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement) pact with the US in September 2018. The P-8Is with a maximum speed of 907 kmph and an operating range of 1,200 nautical miles “with four hours on station”, provide the reach and flexibility to undertake extensive maritime surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions.

It may be noted that the first eight P-8I aircraft inducted under a $2.1 billion deal inked in January 2009 are deployed at INS Rajali in Arakkonam (Tamil Nadu) for the eastern seaboard. The next four, under the $1.1 billion contract signed in July 2016, are being based at INS Hansa in Goa for the western seaboard.

The US has notched up Indian defence deals worth over $21 billion since 2007, with latest ones for 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multirole naval helicopters and six more Apache attack choppers for around $3 billion being inked in February last year. Moreover, with two leased MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones already being used for surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean since last November, India has also finalized its plan to buy 30 such `hunter-killer’ armed drones from the US for over $3 billion, though the high cost of the deal has delayed the inking of the final contract till now.