Naval Air: Indian Searchers Settle Next To Somalia


December 19,2008: India is sending a maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Djibouti, to join the anti-pirate air patrol being conducted from there (Djibouti shares a border with northern Somalia). It's not been decided which type of maritime reconnaissance aircraft to send. Currently, India uses two manned aircraft types (Russian Il-38s and Tu-142s) and Israeli UAVs (Herons and Searcher IIs). It would be cheaper to send a UAV, but these do not carry weapons, which the two manned recon aircraft do, along with more powerful sensors.

India recently six upgraded Il-38 Russian maritime reconnaissance aircraft. India first received their IL-38s in the late 1970s, and they were overdue for an upgrade two decades later. The refurbished Il-38s have sensors that enable them to detect surface vessels, aircraft and submarines up to 150 kilometers away. Mines can be detected a few kilometers away, depending on their type. The sensors include a synthetic aperture/inverse synthetic aperture radar (for night and fog operations), high-resolution FLIR (forward-looking infrared), LLTV (low light television) camera, new ESM (electronic support measures) system and a new MAD (magnetic anomaly detector). The aircraft can now carry antiship missiles, in addition torpedoes, bombs, depth charges and electronic decoys. The refurb is expected to keep the aircraft viable until about 2020. Meanwhile, India is trying to buy two more Il-38s from Russia.

Last year India received another Russian built Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Beginning in 1988, when it received three of these aircraft, India has bought more and now has a fleet of nine. The Tu-142, which was introduced in the 1970s, is 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.

 The 188 ton aircraft has flight crew consisting of a pilot, copilot, engineer and radioman, and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers. Max speed is 925 kilometers an hour, while cruising speed is 440 kilometers an hour. Originally designed as a nuclear bomber, the Tu-142 version still carries up to ten tons of weapons (torpedoes, mines, depth charges, anti-ship missiles, sonobuoys) and a lot more sensors (naval search radar, electronic monitoring gear). There are two 23mm autocannon mounted in the rear of the aircraft. The mission crew of a Tu-142 usually consists of eight personnel, who operate the radars and other electronic equipment. Patrol flights for the Tu-142 can last twelve hours or more, especially when in-flight refueling is used. Maximum altitude is 45,000 feet, although the aircraft flies much lower when searching for submarines. India requires aircraft like these for patrolling the vast India ocean waters that surround the subcontinent. India wants 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. So Israeli suppliers have been consulted to see if there is a better solution available.

Two years ago, India, using UAVs purchased from Israel, formed its first UAV maritime reconnaissance squadron (the 342nd). The unit has eight Searcher II UAVs and four Herons. The Searcher II san stay aloft for 16 hours at a time, and is built to operate for 2,000 hours before a major system failure. The Heron is similar to the U.S. Predator, and can stay up for fifty hours at a time. The radar and vidcam sensors enable the UAVs to provide unprecedented coverage on short notice. Israel is also using a version of the Heron for maritime reconnaissance. Israel is particularly eager for these UAVs to succeed at maritime recon, for that would open up a huge market for Israeli made UAVs and sensors. Israel has been the leader in UAV technology for over two decades, and has been supplying India with UAVs to the Indian navy for five years now.




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