August 7, 2022
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Scanning eagles
Multi mission maritime patrol aircraft

With India’s expanding maritime zone of interest covering the entire Indian Ocean and extending to South China Sea from the Malacca Strait, the Indian Navy needs round the clock surveillance and patrolling.

With the Soviet origin Il-38 and Tu-142 getting obsolete not only because of the ageing factor but also the technology leap that has been achieved in recent years, the Indian Navy needs to modernize its maritime surveillance fleet.

The Indian Navy is preparing for de-induction of TU 142M long-range maritime patrol aircraft after its 29 years of service. The role of TU 142M will now be taken on by the newly inducted P-8l aircraft, which has proven all its systems and has been fully integrated into the operational grid of the Indian Navy

Though four more have been added to the eight P-8Is already ordered in 2009 to the Boeing and its delivery has already begun, the acquisition process for 9 medium range maritime reconnaissance aircraft needs to be fast tracked.

With the Indian Ocean gradually attracting non littoral navies in its fold, armed with greater fire power, India’s concerns should be considered very natural. In fact 21st century will see increased focus on the growth of maritime power especially in the Indian Ocean.

If the India MoD gives the go ahead for acquiring 12 more LRMR P-8I, the navy can effectively keep a watch over the entire Indian Ocean and even can afford to go over the South China Sea maritime area.

Boosting capability

Meanwhile, there is a plan to acquire ship-borne unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The adoption of ship-borne UAVs can incrementally complement maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8Is and ASW helicopters at sea in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), helping boost battle space awareness and target acquisition. The Navy has a stated requirement of 50 such UAVs.

Combining UAVs and ASW helicopters on ship borne air detachments will provide Indian warships a high degree of tactical flexibility in high-threat environments, reducing risk to crews, as well as making targeting faster and more precise.

The P-8 in US service has been designed to interoperate with the Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton-a maritime wide-area surveillance version of the successful MQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, which covers vast portions of the sea for long periods of time. The MQ-4C Triton covers broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS), allowing P-8s to focus on ASW and anti-surface warfare.

Strategic maritime locations like the Nicobar Islands and the Lakshwadeep and Minicoy islands must have greater surveillance facilities for which the Indian Navy has placed requirements for large numbers of medium range surveillance aircraft besides Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. With Chinese Navy increasing its forays deep inside Indian Ocean and trying to acquire basing facilities on the island nations, it is important for the Indian Navy to keep a track on their movements.

The most effective method of locating and coordinating attacks on submarines can be done by the maritime patrol aircraft capability. The P-8I coupled with ship-borne ASW helicopters exponentially increases the ability of a warship to triangulate and prosecute an underwater target.

Extending the P-8I’s range and endurance on station during long maritime surveillance and anti-submarine patrols will require access to air-to-air refueling. Currently, the Indian Air Force’s Ilyushin IL-78 air-to-air refueling tanker aircraft cannot refuel the P-8I, as they are equipped with only a probe and drogue refueling system. Since the P-8Is will form a significant part of Indian airpower, any future acquisition of refueling aircraft will have to be configured to include an aerial refueling boom system compatible with the aircraft.

Maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) post-World War II were primarily designed for long-range patrol to hunt down enemy submarines. However, their role has evolved in the late 1990s to early 21st century to include carrying out surveillance of the battlespace, either at sea, or even over land.

This is especially apparent in military operations post-Sept 11, where maritime patrol aircraft of the US and its allies were used as battlespace surveillance aircraft, providing information to ground troops, taking advantage of their long range and long loiter time capability. Even as it transitions from submarine hunter to multi-mission capable aircraft, the MPA still retains its maritime roots, as even the newest multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft are still designed to be able to undertake anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) roles.

The key to a modern maritime patrol aircraft is flexibility, which very much depends on its mission systems, software, communication and growth potential.

For anti-submarine (ASW) operations, speed of reaction to fleeting detections and in reaching the last known position of a submarine can be of critical importance. Frequently, it is only the MPA that can take full advantage of such intelligence in sufficient time, not only when operating independently but also when assisting naval forces, and especially when assisting an SSN into, or to regain, the trail of an opposing submarine. For surface surveillance using its maritime radar, the area an MPA can search in one hour is over 100 times that of a surfaced SSN, twenty times that of a surface vessel and seven times that of a helicopteriii. Thus, the MPA is a very important 'force multiplier' for any naval force.

Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have proven that conflicts in the future will be much different than those faced in the past. Consequently, transforming military into a leaner, more flexible, high tech force is imperative. This transformation involves not only the injection of new technologies, but also a greater integration of the services and a retooling of the acquisition process to encourage innovation and reduce the time to field new weapons systems

Modern platforms

Therefore a number of developing countries are looking to upgrade their current fleet of maritime patrol aircraft to reflect these changing roles, and several are looking to procure next generation maritime patrol aircraft altogether to replace their older maritime patrol aircraft currently in service.

According to a recent report the global airborne maritime surveillance market is growing and being driven by geopolitical uncertainties and obsolete aircraft fleets. In particularly, P-3C replacement programmes and new high-value maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) and maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) modernization programmes in Asia and Europe are fuelling growth.

Operators are also developing different approaches to the concepts of maritime patrol and surveillance through man-unmanned teaming (MUM-T), off-board integration of sensors, and multi-mission emphasis through roll-on/roll-off capabilities. Several nations are moving towards an integrated EEZ approach based on a layered surveillance architecture and multi-source surveillance assets such as satellites, surface fleets, UAVs, MPAs, MSAs, underwater combatants etc. belonging to multiple authorities

The report also says that the Asia-Pacific region, South and Central Asia will be the hotspots for MPA procurement. Many companies around the world are developing the most advanced MPA with multi role capabilities.

Major companies who are involved in developing MPA are Saab, Lockheed Martin, Airbus DS, Northrop Grumman, Tecnam and Boeing. OEMs like Boeing and Lockheed Martin have well established capabilities in ISR segments like maritime patrol and surveillance. They offer very capable platforms in the P-8s and P-3Cs but with defence budgets of many nations under internal pressure, many nations will be looking for smaller aircraft or more customisable solutions with capabilities that can be upgraded over time.
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