NEW DELHI: The mega Rs 21,935 crore TATA-Airbus project to supply 56 twin-turboprop C-295 military transport aircraft to the IAF is set to become even bigger. The defence ministry is now planning the acquisition of another 15 such planes for the Navy and Coast Guard as well MSN reported.

The plan is to modify nine C-295s for Navy and six for Coast Guard, and equip them with multi-mode radars, electro-optic cameras and sonobuoys, for surveillance missions over the high seas, sources told TOI.

Airbus Defence and Space (Spain) will modify the initial couple of planes for maritime requirements. The rest will be manufactured at the Tata-Airbus facility at Vadodara in Gujarat, with the DRDO executing the overall project for equipping them to serve as medium-range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft.

The Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisitions Council will soon take up the grant of acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the 15-aircraft project, which could cost around Rs 18,000 crore, the sources added. Both Navy and Coast Guard have been looking for new MRMR aircraft to ensure the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) can be more effectively patrolled to detect both conventional and terror threats in time.

The Navy currently has 12 P-8I aircraft, acquired from the US for $3.2 billion, for long-range reconnaissance missions. Packed with radars and sensors as well as armed with Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, the P-8Is are primarily meant for hunting enemy submarines.

The P-8Is patrol the outermost layer of the three-tier maritime surveillance grid along with two unarmed Sea Guardian drones leased from US firm General Atomics. “The 15 MRMR aircraft, which have a flight endurance of up to 11 hours, in turn, will be used for medium-range missions in the IOR along with the Dornier-228 fleet,” a source said.

While India’s primary area of strategic interest stretches from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, it also has a vast 5,422-km coastline, 1,197 islands and two million sq km of EEZ to guard against threats.

PM Modi had laid the foundation stone for the Tata-Airbus Vadodara facility on October 30. The first 16 C-295s are to be delivered to IAF in a flyaway condition by Airbus between September 2023 to August 2025, with the remaining 40 to be produced at Vadodara.

The first ‘Made in India’ C-295, which can carry up to nine-tonne of payload or 71 soldiers with “short take-off and land” capability from semi-prepared surfaces, will roll out in September 2026.

Induction of these 56 planes in the 2023-2031 timeframe will boost IAF’s tactical airlift capability along the border with China. This is the first time a military aircraft will be manufactured by the private sector in India, breaking the virtual monopoly of defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics for decades.