The Navy took delivery of its first Boeing P-8I aircraft in Dec 2012 and today has a fleet of 12 planes

The Indian Navy has completed ten years since its first Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft was delivered in December 2012. In the decade, the Navy has grown its P-8I fleet to 12 aircraft, surpassing 35,000 flight hours. The Indian Navy is the only Asian aircraft operator of the type and the first export customer.

Before inducting the P-8I, the Navy operated the Russian Tupolev TU-142M for nearly three decades. The Tupolev TU-142M was the world's heaviest, fastest, and highest-flying turboprop and was inducted into the Indian Navy Air Squadron 312 (INAS 312) in April 1988. By the time the aircraft was retired in March 2017, after 29 years of service, the fleet had completed 30,000 flight hours.

Maritime Asset

The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) ordered eight P-8Is worth $2.1 billion in January 2009, following which it contracted for four more aircraft worth approximately $1 billion in July 2016. The first aircraft was delivered to the Navy in December 2012, and the P-8I was formally inducted into service with INAS 312 in 2013 at INS Rajali in Arakkonam (approx 70 km off Chennai). The follow-on batch of four aircraft has been delivered and is stationed at INS Hansa. The Navy commenced P-8I operations from INS Hansa in Jan 2022, and INAS 316, the Navy’s second P-8I aircraft squadron, was commissioned into service in March 2022.

The Boeing P-8 is a multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft which can undertake Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance, and Search & Rescue. The Navy also utilises P-8Is to provide time-critical surveillance information for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force and is also its platform of choice for detecting and neutralising enemy ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The P-8 can fly up to 41,000 ft and attain a speed of just over 900 kmph. This allows it to reach the operating area for missions such as SAR or ASW much faster than other turboprop-powered aircraft. It can also stay in the air for as long as ten hours. The induction of P8Is, starting in 2013, significantly enhanced the Indian Navy's persistent surveillance operations in the IOR.

Success Story

Boeing has delivered 112 aircraft to the US Navy, 12 each to India and Australia, nine to the United Kingdom, five to Norway and one to New Zealand, for a total of 151 aircraft delivered. In addition to these aircraft, Boeing built six test aircraft for the US Navy during the initial stages of the programme. The in-service global P-8I fleet has now accumulated over 450,000 mishap-free flight hours.

Boeing P-8I

There are only two variants of the P-8: the P-8A Poseidon flown by the US Navy, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and Royal Norwegian Air Force, and the P-8I, which the Indian Navy only flies. Germany and South Korea have also had the P-8A on order.

If the P-8 looks familiar to observers not clued in on military aviation, it is because the P-8 is based on Boeing’s 737-800 NG commercial jetliner. Boeing undertakes the changes needed to convert a 737-800 NG into the P-8I at its Renton plant, adding a weapon bay, wing pylon, etc. The P-8 shares 86% commonality with the commercial 737 NG. P-8 aircraft are engineered for 25 years/25,000 hours of operations in the harshest maritime flight regimes, including extended operations in icing environments.

Indigenous Enhancement

To meet Indian requirements, the P-8I features items such as the radar fingerprinting system, IFF (I/T) and datalink, speech secrecy system, mobile SATCOM system and wire harnesses, which are made in India by supplier partners, including Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises located across the nation. Boeing has stated that it plans to enhance in-country technical services support for the P-8I fleet by leveraging the skills and expertise of its India Engineering and Technology Center.

Indian companies such as Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Avantel, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Dynamatics, Tata Advanced Strategic Systems (TASL) and Coimbatore-based AIR+MAK, to name a few, supply equipment for the P-8I. HAL has supplied its Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponders, weapons Bay doors and composite tail dome, while BEL has supplied its IFF Interrogator, Data Link 2 and fingerprinting system. ECIL has supplied the Speech Secrecy system, while Bengaluru-based Dynamatics Technologies has supplied P-8I power and mission equipment cabinets. TASL has delivered the Auxiliary Power Units (APU) door fairings and radomes. Ground support equipment, such as power carts, compressor carts, tow vehicles, etc are supplied by Coimbatore-based AIR+MAK.

In January 2018, the MOD approved the procurement of the P-8I Training Solution and Low-Intensity Conflict Electronic Warfare System (LICEWS) at a total cost of INR 2419.32 crore. It also announced the procurement of a P-8I Training Solution from Boeing and ten years of comprehensive maintenance service for INR 949.32 crore. This training solution accurately simulates P-8I aircraft and mission systems.

Support For Success

India’s P-8I fleet is supported through Boeing’s services business by providing performance-based logistics, spares, ground support equipment, field service representative and on-site engineering support. Sustainment of the Navy P-8I fleet in India is a key aspect, and domestic MRO provider Air Works, in partnership with Boeing, completed the first P-8I heavy maintenance check in 2019. Air Works was acquired by Adani Defence Systems & Technologies (ADSTL) for an enterprise value of INR 400 crore in October 2022.

In August 2022, Air Works handed over the last of the six P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, after completing heavy maintenance checks, to Boeing and the Indian Navy. The heavy maintenance of these aircraft was done at Air Works’ facility at Hosur, Tamil Nadu.

“One of the key learning of this project has been that aviation & aerospace OEMs must take a leaf from Boeing’s BIRDS hub initiative and partner with domestic MROs like Air Works to successfully realise the Government’s Make-in-India programme, to scale up local maintenance capabilities and ensure that more and more maintenance assignments – irrespective of their complexity or their nature - civil or defence - are undertaken within the country, for cost-effectiveness and to create a strategic depth,” D Anand Bhaskar, Managing Director & CEO, Air Works Group said, following the announcement. Air Works and Boeing have also partnered to maintain the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) VIP Boeing 737 BBJ fleet.

Boeing has provided training for P-8I pilots, observers, ordnance and technical personnel. It also builds a 60,000 sq ft Training, Support and Data Handling Centre. The new training facility was due to be commissioned at INS Rajali, Arakkonam, by March 2021. Boeing has also supplied a dedicated maintenance simulator to the Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology (NIAT) in Kochi for ab-initio training of technical personnel.

The centre at INS Rajali will include a Flight Team Training Device, a Mission Team Module, an Ordinance Team Training Device, a Virtual Procedure Trainer, a data management and training console, five electronic aircrew classrooms and an electronic maintenance classroom. The centre at Kochi will include a Virtual Procedure Trainer and two electronic maintenance classrooms. Boeing will also provide all associated courseware to support training activities at the centre.

The indigenous, ground-based training system will allow the Navy to increase crew proficiency in a shorter time while reducing the on-aircraft training time resulting in increased aircraft availability for mission tasking. It will help the Indian Navy train and realistically rehearse for sophisticated missions involving P-8I aircraft at a fraction of the cost of live aircraft training.