NEW DELHI: India's biggest- ever defence deal inked with US till now is all set to get bigger. Plans are virtually final now to order another four P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime patrol aircraft to add to the eight already contracted under the $2.1 billion deal inked last year. Defence ministry sources say the project to acquire four more Boeing P-8I aircraft will be taken up for approval in the meeting of the defence acquisitions council, headed by A K Antony, on October 8.
It will be held in the backdrop of the recent visits of Antony and Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma to US. ''The new P-8Is will cost the same as each of the eight ordered in January 2009, without any cost escalation. There will also be similar offsets requirements. In the original $2.1-billion contract, the offsets were valued over $600 million,'' said a source.
India is going in for the 12 P-8Is to plug huge gaps in its maritime snooping capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which has become heavily militarised with even China increasingly making strategic forays into the region.
At present, Navy has a woefully-inadequate maritime reconnaissance fleet of eight ageing Russian Tupolev-142M turboprops and five upgraded Ilyushin-38SD aircraft, a dozen Israeli Heron and Searcher-II spy drones, and a few Dornier-228 squadrons.
Based on the Boeing 737 commercial airliners with cruise speeds of 445 knots, the P-8Is will not undertake just surveillance missions. They will also be capable of deadly anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, armed as they will be with torpedoes, depth bombs and Harpoon missiles.
They will have ''a mission radius'' of 600 nautical miles, with 5.5 hours on-station loitering time, and 1,200 nautical miles, with 4 hours on station. With mid-air refuelling, their operational radius will further go up. The first of the eight original P-8Is is slated to be inducted by early-2013, with the others following by 2016. The US Navy, too, will begin inducting the first lot of its 117 P-8A multi-mission maritime aircraft around the same time.
P-8Is are being customised to Indian naval requirements, with communication, electronic warfare and other systems being sourced from India. For instance, defence PSU Bharat Electronics is delivering Data Link-II, a communication system to enable rapid exchange of information among Indian warships, submarines aircraft and shore establishments, for the P-8Is to Boeing. There is, however, the question of India having not yet inked the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) being pushed by the US as ''a sensitive technology-enabler'' for P-8I and other arms procurements.
But MoD and Navy are not too worried. Antony, in fact, told his American counterpart Robert Gates in Washington on Tuesday that while India appreciated the US government's view that pacts like CISMOA would ''facilitate access to high technologies'', there were still some concerns which needed to be addressed..