India will receive four P-8I aircraft in 2021. The purchase of six P-8I aircraft has been cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council in 2019. Of this, four aircraft are likely to arrive in 2021 and talks are undergoing to acquire six more. with the induction of four more P-8I multi-mission aircraft from the US next year, India’s long-range anti-submarine, reconnaissance, surveillance, and electronic jamming capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region are going to get a further boost.
P-8I is the variant of the P-8A of the Indian Navy, where I stand for India. This aircraft is specially designed for maritime patrol. P-8I can carry 129 sonobuoys to locate subs – turns into a deadly submarine killer that can also launch anti-ship missiles because it is integrated with the Harpoon Block II air-launched missiles and lightweight torpedoes, the reconnaissance craft.
This deal has done by defense ministry of India against the backdrop of China’s efforts to militarise the South China Sea and expand its sea footprint. Additionally, China builds a number of ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, East Africa, and Iran. Beijing is not only creating a challenge for the Indian Navy but for the US Central Command forces, French, and British Navy.
China has 70 % stake in Hambantota port in South Sri Lanka dominates the Indian Ocean, the port of Jack in Iran is located on the edge of Persian Gulf, Gwadar port in Pakistan sits on the mouth of Gulf of Oman, and Kyaukpyu port in Myanmar, which sits in the Bay of Bengal.
A government official said National security planners believed that the possibility of Beijing attempting to replicate its aggressive posture along the Line of Actual Control at a time of its choosing in the Indian Ocean Region was very real.
There is an anti-China QUAD – Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – strategic grouping among various Nations in the World and India also inched closer to formalizing it. The United States, Japan, and Australia are the other members of the QUAD group. The QUAD is already a reality on the high seas due to India signing the Communications, Compatibility, and Security Agreement (COMCASA) agreement in September 2019.
India needed encrypted communication for a long time and the pact provided the legal framework. P-8I aircraft is interoperable and it makes this possible with ease. They are designed for this and can communicate securely. The official said, “This is a de-facto QUAD because these have interoperability with the P-8A Poseidon delivered to other countries”.
The P-8I aircraft is designed for secure communications to enable one aircraft to share real-time operational intelligence, including a Common Tactical Picture with other P-8 aircraft. It also has the capability for long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.
It can be used for other purposes also. It has a range of about 2,200 km and flies at a maximum speed of 490 knots, or 789 km per hour. The military had relied on the reconnaissance aircraft for surveillance during the ongoing Ladakh standoff with China as well as the 2017 Doklam standoff.
A government official in New Delhi said that the negotiations for the purchase of six more P-8I aircraft are undergoing talk. In November 2019, the deal of six P-8I was finalized by the Defence Acquisition Council, long before the conflict with an aggressive China along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh region.