India is now close to inking the $2.42 billion deal with the US for six more advanced P-8I submarine-hunting aircraft, which will take the total value of lucrative Indian defence contracts bagged by Washington in the last 15 years to around $25 billion.
The State Department and Pentagon on Friday notified the US Congress about the impending deal for the six P-8I aircraft and related equipment to India. “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defence partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in the Indo-Pacic and South Asia regions,” said the notification.
Indian Navy has already inducted nine of the 12 P-8I aircraft, which are packed with radars and armed with Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, contracted for $3.2 billion earlier. The rest three are slated for delivery by this year-end.
The Boeing-manufactured P-8Is are primarily meant for hunting and destroying enemy submarines in the Indian Ocean Region. But India has also been extensively using the P-8Is, with their advanced electro-optic sensors, to keep tabs on the movements and build-ups of the People’s Liberation Army along the land borders ever since the military confrontation with China erupted in eastern Ladakh in May last year.
Unlike the first 12 P-8Is, the six new aircraft to be acquired now will have more advanced systems as a result of India signing the COMCASA (Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement) pact with the US in September 2018.
With a maximum speed of 907 kmph and an operating range of 1,200 nautical miles “with four hours on station”, the P8Is provide the reach and flexibility to undertake extensive maritime surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions.
The first eight P-8I aircraft inducted under a $2.1 billion deal inked in January 2009 are deployed at INS Rajali in Arakkonam (Tamil Nadu) for the eastern seaboard. The next four, under the $1.1 billion contract signed in July 2016, are being based at INS Hansa in Goa for the western seaboard. Just since 2007, the US has notched up Indian defence deals worth over $21 billion, with latest ones for 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multirole naval helicopters and six more Apache attack choppers for around $3 billion being inked in February last year.
With two leased MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones already being used for surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean since last November, India has also finalized its plan to buy 30 such `hunter-killer’ armed drones from the US for over $3 billion. But the high cost of the deal has delayed the inking of the final contract till now.