Naval Air: July 1, 2004

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India is looking to upgrade its force of Il-38 May maritime reconnaissance aircraft. This force of eight aircraft (two others were lost in a 2002 collision) is part of a small force (along with eight Tu-142 Bear-F Anti-Submarine Warfare planes) that gives India the ability to patrol the Indian Ocean.

Like the P-3 Orion, the Il-38 is a variant of a civil airliner (in this case, the Ilyushin Il-20). The Il-38 is roughly ten years younger than the American maritime patrol aircraft (introduced in the early 1970s). Unlike the P-3, the Il-38 does not carry under wing hard points for anti-ship missiles. In part, this is due to the fact that the Soviets (and later the Russians) had plenty of other aircraft for the long-range maritime strike role (the Tu-16 Badger, the Tu-22 Blinder, and the Tu-22M Backfire). The Il-38 and Tu-142 Bear-F were also intended to operate in a more defensive role (destruction of NATO submarines trying to penetrate into the Barents Sea). The Tu-142 Bear-F, is a variant of a strategic bomber, the Tu-95 Bear. This results in about 50 percent more range than the Il-38 (12,550 kilometers versus 7,200 kilometers for the Il-38). This aircraft can fly from Bombay to Johannesburg without refueling.

However, Indias needs for these aircraft are much different. India needs to be able to handle both submarines and surface ships. Technologies for both have not stood still, and so, India is looking to upgrade its force of Il-38s and Tu-142s. The likely candidate for Indias force of Il-38s is the Russian Sea Dragon system. This is a fully-digital avionics suite slated not just for anti-submarine work, but it will also give the Il-38 a surface-surveillance/maritime strike capability and the ability to conduct electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions. Most notably, the Il-38 will not gain the ability to use the Kh-35 Uran (AS-20 Kayak/SS-N-25 Switchblade) anti-ship missile, Russias Harpoonski. The May will also carry the R-73/AA-11 Archer, which will make it a threat to other maritime patrol aircraft (like the P-3 Orion).

The Indian Navy had originally planned to also add the Sea Dragon to the Tu-142, but the Bear-F they flew in Russia did not meet some of the parameters (particularly detection the primary job of a maritime patrol aircraft). Instead, the Tu-142s will be upgraded by either Israeli Aircraft Industries (which has provided upgrades for MiG-21 fighters albeit not Indias) or Elbit Systems, which has worked on a number of aircraft systems, most notably the helmet-mounted sight for the F-35.

India has been reported to be looking for more aircraft. Talks have been held for the purchase of some ex-U.S. Navy P-3B Orions, a less-capable version than the P-3Cs currently in use by the U.S. Navy and slated for replacement by Boeings 737 variant. The P-3C, ironically, is in service with Pakistan. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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