Final maintenance inspections of eight P-8I completed and delivered at Air Works in Hosur, India

The Indian Navy is looking towards some major acquisitions of its most visible assets, such as aircraft carriers and Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) in the coming years

Indian Navy’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar publicly affirmed the Navy’s interest in placing a repeat order for the Vikrant type aircraft carrier. More MPAs are also on the horizon, with Boeing making efforts to revive the reportedly shelved plan to procure six additional P-8I long range MPAs even as DRDO develops medium range MPAs based on the Airbus C-295.

Third Aircraft Carrier

INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, the existing aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy, will be joined by a second Vikrant class vessel. CNS Adm Hari Kumar stated that considerable experience and skills have been developed within Cochin Shipyard (CSL) which built INS Vikrant, adding that “building an aircraft carrier is not a small thing.” The implication is likely that the time needed to develop and freeze a larger CATOBAR equipped aircraft carrier design as originally envisaged by the Navy, would lead to the current expertise at CSL and other firms ebbing away. The quicker build of an existing design with increased indigenisation and other improvements would help reduce costs and achieve the goal of having a three carrier fleet.

The Indian Navy is looking to indigenise many equipment onboard the existing two aircraft carriers which would be incorporated in the third from the start. This includes the arresting gear system which had been sourced from Russia’s Proletarsky Zavod and restraining gear used for launching aircraft currently procured from Russia’s RAC MiG. Three of each of these systems would be ordered with development expected to be completed by 2028. Precision Approach Radar for aircraft carriers will face an import ban from 2031.

Multiple 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. Self sufficiency in repairs of the MiG-29K landing gear, self protection jammer, oxygen generation system and Optical Locator Station will also be pursued.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft

In late September, Boeing pitched for Indian Navy’s procurement of six additional P-8Is, envisioning that increasing the P-8I fleet to 18 aircraft will create further indigenization opportunities within India’s aerospace and defense sector by 2032, adding $1.5 billion over the economic impact of $1.7 billion the existing fleet has created.

“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,” said Salil Gupte, president of Boeing India.

Since its induction in 2013, India’s P-8I aircraft has surpassed 40,000 flight hours with the firm collaborating 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 indigenize the P-8I with tires, chaff and flares to be procured from indigenous sources in the future. Indian munitions are also expected to be integrated 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 the 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 currently uses two leased MQ-9Bs, showcased to the media recently, with the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E V2 AESA radar mounted on the underbelly. These long-range, high-endurance UAVs have been used extensively by the Indian Navy, complementing the P-8I fleet. The 15 SeaGuardians would be optionally equipped with armament, ASW sensors, and other equipment. These UAVs would be complemented by Indian MALE and HALE UAVs which are under development.

These multi-billion dollar acquisitions would be spread over several years, complementing submarine, surface combatant, and fighter aircraft acquisitions. The Indian Navy is also focusing heavily on developing and employing uncrewed assets of all types.