Spy plane acquired from US to be based in Tamil Nadu

New Delhi, April 20 (Inditop) India’s newly acquired long-range spy planes, the P8-I, purchased from the US under a $2.1 billion deal earlier this year, will be based at an Indian naval air base in Tamil Nadu for better surveillance of the country’s coastline.

The eight multi-mission maritime aircraft will replace the Russian vintage Tupolev-142 turboprop maritime patrol aircraft of the navy.

“The aircraft will be based at the Naval Air Station Rajali at Arakkonam (in Tamil Nadu). The base has been chosen as it has a long runway,” a senior Indian Navy official told IANS, requesting anonymity.

Currently the Indian Navy operates a fleet of eight Tu-142 ‘Bear’ aircraft from Arakkonam. The TU-142 was first inducted into the Navy at Goa on March 30, 1988.

“Infrastructure will be set up at the air base for the P8-I aircraft, the first of which will arrive by 2014. Since it is in south India, the base will also increase the range of the aircraft,” the official added.

The P8-I aircraft is an important part of the three-tier surveillance system envisaged by the Indian Navy to protect the 7,516 km-long coastline of the country in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack last year.

The spy aircraft will form the outermost layer with the medium range planes comprising the penultimate layer of the surveillance system.

For the innermost layer of the three-tier surveillance, the navy is procuring two more Israeli Heron UAVs with three ground control stations and two ship control stations for Rs.3.5 billion.

“The P8-I, designated as a multi-mission maritime aircraft, has a wider profile as it can locate hostile submarines, and can attack them as well as small or large ships near or far from the coast,” the official said.

The issue of the P8-Is also came up during the Naval Commanders Conference in Vishakapatnam this week.

The spy planes will replace the Tu-142, the patrol version of the Tu-95 heavy bomber. This aircraft entered service 51 years ago and is expected to remain in service along with the Tu-142 variant, for another three decades. Over 500 Tu-95s were built, and it is the largest and fastest turboprop aircraft in service. Russia still maintains a force of 60 Tu-95s, but has dozens in storage which can be restored to service as either a bomber or a Tu-142.

Patrol flights for the Tu-142 can last 12 hours or more, especially when in-flight refuelling is used. Maximum altitude is 45,000 feet, although the aircraft flies much lower when searching for submarines.

India requires patrolling aircraft to man the vast India Ocean waters that surround the subcontinent. India wanted to upgrade the electronics on its Tu-142s, but has been put off by the high price, and low performance of what the Russians have offered.

The P-8A Poseidon is based on the widely used Boeing 737 airliner. India will get a version customized for its needs.