India’s P8I Poseidon maritime aircraft flies - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 29 September 2011

India’s P8I Poseidon maritime aircraft flies

The P8I Poseidon's first flight at the Boeing facility near Seattle. The Indian Navy team that attended, below

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Sept 11

The Indian Navy, which aims to be the premier blue water navy in the Indian Ocean region, needs to keep a year-round watch over some two million square kilometres of open sea, its Exclusive Economic Zone. In war, the area becomes even larger. The aircraft that will perform this function in the decades to come, the P8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA), made its first ever flight at a Boeing facility in Seattle, USA. The state-of-the-art Poseidon will start being delivered to the navy from 2013, replacing its vintage fleet of Russian Tupolev-142M and Ilyushin-38 long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft.

Boeing has developed the Poseidon as a replacement for the US Navy’s current maritime patrol aircraft, the P3C Orion. Early last decade, Washington tried hard to persuade New Delhi to buy the Orion. The Pakistan Navy flies this aircraft; two of them were destroyed in May during the militant raid on a Pakistani naval base, PNS Mehran. But, in 2006, the MoD replied that the Orion was old technology; it would buy only the Poseidon, which the US had not sold to any other country. Washington, looking for a way to jump-start the defence relationship, acquiesced.

On 1st Jan 09, the navy signed a contract for buying 8 Poseidon MMA, with an option for four more. This will make the Indian Navy the first non-US operator of the Poseidon. The Poseidon built for the US Navy is designated the P8A; the Indian variant is the P8I (I for India).

The utility of a maritime patrol aircraft like the Poseidon, which must dominate the ocean beyond the reach of shore-based radars, hinges upon how much time it can remain on patrol, and on its ability to detect and destroy enemy ships and submarines. The old Indian Navy Tu-142Ms and IL-38s, dating back to the 1950s, had neither the reliability to remain on station beyond a few hours, nor the gadgetry and weaponry to intimidate the enemy.

In contrast the Poseidon is internationally acknowledged as the benchmark in maritime patrol. It marries a tried and tested sensor and weapons suite with a specially developed Boeing 737 aircraft. Since reliability and endurance are crucial, it was logical to base the Poseidon on the world’s most widely flown airliner (a 737 lands or takes off somewhere in the world every three seconds). The Poseidon is a 737-800, specially modified with a 737-900 wing.

The CFM-56 engines that are standard fitment on recent 737s also power the Poseidon. These are modified with larger generators that churn out the power needed for the MMA’s sensors and control systems. In addition, there is an auxiliary power unit that provides electricity even when the main engines are switched off.

If the flying platform is brand new, the comprehensive suite of sensors and weapons that it carries provides the Poseidon with tested strike power. The Indian Navy has also instructed Boeing to install certain capabilities that were not provided for the P8A. This includes “aft-looking radar” custom designed by US company Telefonic, which functions like an electronic rear view mirror, scanning the water behind the aircraft. There is also the high-power Raytheon forward-looking radar. The Poseidon has the capability of dropping sonobuoys, which pick up sonar signal from enemy submarines and transmit them to the aircraft.

Unlike a civilian 737 the Poseidon is armed to the teeth. It has 11 “hard points”, or weapons stations: two under each wing for depth bombs or Harpoon anti-ship missiles; five stations inside the weapons bay for torpedoes that cannot be slung outside since they must be kept warm; and two hard points up front for combat seach and rescue (SAR) equipment or for additional depth bombs.

A team of Indian Navy officers, including the navy’s chief aviator, Rear Admiral DM Sudan, witnessed the two and a half hour flight in Seattle. Boeing test pilots, who actually flew the aircraft, took the aircraft up to 41,000 feet. Boeing says that the coming weeks will see “mission systems installation and checkout work” on the P8I Poseidon.

“The P-8I program is progressing well and we are looking forward to this potent platform joining the Indian Navy as part of its fleet,” said Sudan.

Boeing says it will comprehensively test the first P8I before handing it over to the Indian Navy, which will do acceptance tests before taking delivery of the aircraft. The P-8I is built by a Boeing-led industry team that includes CFM International, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Spirit AeroSystems, BAE Systems and GE Aviation.


  1. @ajai sir

    its a real good news, but i have to ask you that why are you referring the Poseidon LRMR as MMR, is there any difference in nomenclature.

    you say it can carry Harpoon missiles, does it mean air launched Brahmos will need other launch systems.

    also can you provide any details on the offsets or upgrades that will be carried out on these aircrafts in India


    Joydeep Ghosh

  2. Dear Ajai Sir,
    I acknowledge that P8i Poseidon is a very capable weapons and battle control platform in its application to meet all advanced surface and sub surface threats. But it doesn't necessitate to scrap the good old Tu142 and Ilushin38. Recently these have been upgraded which included - airfame & structural strengthens and advanced electronic systems. As you have stated that Tu142 is unreliable, i don't agree with this. It has a remarkable endurance. Even though P8i becomes fully operational (with all its elecronic & weapons control suites and armaments), the Tu142 and IL 38 can perform long endurance CAP, coastal surveillance. The vastness of Indian shorelines and ocean assets makes it imperative to have a second line of observation and sensor platforms in air.

  3. Hope... this fulfills its... true purpose... to remain over the oceans... not just the seas...

  4. Seems we have forgotten the sanctions !!

  5. Col Shukla sir, I hope you do realize that despite the glitzy pics and vids, what we have actually done here is make a critical component of IN war fighting capability hostage to unpredictable whims of US foreign policy. Weapons of war should be first of all available during war time. I would rather have a portion of aircrafts unserviceable at peacetime than being inoperable in wartime. What will happen when we undertake an ICBM/Nuke test or hot pursuit in Kashmir and US embargoes us like the Seakings chopper case. Thankfully Seakings were tactical assets but these are strategic ones!

    Secondly your statement that “Navy Tu-142Ms and IL-38s, dating back to the 1950s, had neither the reliability to remain on station beyond a few hours”, is vague and incorrect. Are we talking about the same Tu-142 which has been routinely flying 18 hour missions for last 40 years? Its operational combat radius of 6500 km without air refueling is greater than the P-8I. The on station time (planned) of P-8I is 4 hours I don’t know how greater is this that “a few hours” for the IL-38/TU-142. I know you love American equipment sir, but please don’t decry Russian equipment just for sake of it. Lastly, The Il-38 is not of 1950s vintage the modification of IL-18 entered service in 1967, much after5 the 1962 debut of P-3 Orion of same vintage and still very active with USN. As you know better, neither the P-3 nor Il-38 have remained the same over the years, so they are not really 1950s vintage aircrafts. If you go by the date of the airframe design the Boeing 737 on which the P-8 is based entered service in 1968!
    Sir, the greatest irony is that you already know everything written above, but still decided to take a swipe at Russian equipment, a very fashionable trait these days. The P-8I will no doubt bring many up to date capabilities to Indian Navy and will be great asset but it doesn’t mean that what we already have is bad. At least the Tu-142 and IL-38 will be available for us to use in crisis time, unlike these sanctions prone birds. I will wait for your angry riposte.

  6. Good news but this article seems to be marketing material. Easy to say things like much better than existing Tus, Ils but how does it compare with them on range, payload and serviciability. Will it be able to monitor the seas from the Straits of Malacca to the Gulf of Aden to the Seychelles? What weapons it wont have which have made it the platform to go for. Were there any alternatives - any other platform, combination of platforms.

  7. @ Chandan and Anonymous 14:39

    There is a dying breed in this country... it consists of those who have failed to notice that the world has changed and that India is no longer a country that you can push around and impose sanctions on lightly.

    Amongst the millions who have moved out of this category is Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne with whom I had lunch today after a press conference. He mentioned at least thrice that the IAF couldn't get over the fact that it would receive the first six C-130J aircraft ahead of schedule. But some people continue to think that it is in the natural order of things to keep getting dicked over by the Russians and then go out and curse the Americans!

    You write: "I would rather have a portion of aircrafts unserviceable at peacetime than being inoperable in wartime." This is the kind of bullshit that characterises anti-US pamphleteering. Let me remind you of a simple fact: unserviceable in peacetime is unserviceable in war. Your cleverly worded slogan seems to suggest that the Russian aircraft would suddenly start flying in wartime, while the US aircraft would all die from kill switch attack!

    Grow up guys!

    Next, your 18-hour patrols by the Tu-142s! It's not the size that counts, my friend, but what you do with it. The electronics and weaponry that come with the P8i (I am aware of it, but not at liberty to talk about it) make the Tu-142 look like an old bag lady out for a piss in the park.

    I'm not an ideological critic of Russian equipment. I know and appreciate the kind of support that they have given us in critical areas that are too sensitive to name. But when it comes to regular, everyday equipment, India is already learning what it means to deal with American vendors who are brought up on the maxim of: the user is King.

    And going by what Charlie Browne and his air marshals were saying today... the IAF has no doubt that it is safe to buy American.

    Before you guys out there jump to any conclusions, let me make it clear that I am no votary of switching wholesale to US equipment. All that I'm saying is: the days of US sanctions are over. And many US platforms --- the P8i, the C-17, the C-130J, the Apache and the Chinook to name just five --- are in a class of their own.

  8. @Ajai sie

    your reply to @ Chandan and Anonymous 14:39 gives out only one point. We are getting the systems at pretty fast rate, and with follow on orders we are actually saving money (follow on order of 6 C-130J reportedly saved India upwards of $400 million).

    Though its a different matter that sometime back when asked your opinion on whether IAF will order the additional C-130Js you said 'no'.

    You say 'the electronics and weaponry that come with the P8i (I am aware of it, but not at liberty to talk about it) make the Tu-142 look like an old bag lady out for a piss in the park.'

    But the fact remains it will never carry our homegrown Brahmos or 600 km ALCM that under development. Also I believe we cant include any of own electronic systems in them.

    The biggest handicap however to operate these birds is however in a different level. If the US is unhappy with India on somethings (support to Iran or Burma) it might put us on sanctions as well as say that we cant operate these birds, then we will be left with these super dud birds.

    Not to forget the fact that our refusal to sign CISMOA, BECA resulted in several key systems being left out from these birds (even if leftover systems make them more lethel than Tu-142/Il-38)

    I would say we will always be on notice while operating these birds.

    awaiting your response

    Joydeep Ghosh


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