December 9, 2011:
The Indian Navy now wants to double their order for American P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft to 24. Earlier this year, the navy was allowed to buy another four P-8Is, largely in response to growing Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean. Three years ago, India ordered its initial eight U.S. P-8s, for about $220 million each. The growing expense of maintaining their Russian Tu-142M reconnaissance aircraft, and the need for a more capable recon aircraft led to that initial order. The first P-8I will arrive in 2014. What has made the Indian admirals so enthusiastic about an aircraft that first flew two years ago and is still undergoing testing is its ancestry. The equipment and techniques come from the half century old P-3. Arguably the most successful maritime patrol aircraft ever, the P-3 equipment and experience are being merged with the equally admired Boeing 737 air transport to create the P-8.
The Indian decision to switch to U.S. maritime recon aircraft is rather recent. Four years ago 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 eight in service. The Tu-142, which was introduced in the 1970s, is the maritime patrol version of the Tu-95 heavy bomber. The Tu-95 aircraft entered service over half a century 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.
India requires aircraft like these for patrolling 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 offered. There was also some question of whether the Russians could meet their schedule and cost assurances.
The Americans have a much better reputation in these areas. Moreover, India will get a version (P-8I) customized for their needs. Although the Boeing 737 based P-8 is a two engine jet, compared to the four engine turboprop P-3, it is a more capable plane. Cruise speed for the 737 is 910 kilometers an hour. This makes it possible for the P-8 to get to a patrol area faster, which is a major advantage when chasing down subs first spotted by sonar arrays or satellites. The P-8 has a crew of 10-11 pilots and equipment operators, who operate the search radar and various other sensors. The 737 has hard points on the wings for torpedoes or missiles.
The B-737 is a more modern design than the Tu-142, and has been used successfully since the 1960s by commercial aviation. The Boeing 737 first flew in 1965, and over 5,000 have been built. The P-8A will be the first 737 designed with a bomb bay and four wing racks for weapons. The U.S. P-8 costs more, about $275 million each, because of different equipment carried.