India is beefing up its maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare capabilities with an order for four Boeing Co.-made P-8I aircraft.
The order is the latest evidence of booming defense ties between India and the U.S. The South Asian nation’s arms imports from the U.S. in the five years through 2015 were 11 times the amount in the previous five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
India imported 14% of its weapons from the U.S. in the same period, although its longstanding supplier Russia continued to dominate its defense market with a 70% share, according to the think tank.
India spent how much?
India will pay about $1 billion for the four P-8I planes. That is about half the amount the country spent in 2009 for eight of the aircraft. That order had an option for India to acquire four more jets at the 2009 price, something it is exercising now.
What can the planes do?
The P-8I—a military variant of Boeing 737-800 commercial jetliner—is fitted with state-of-the-art sensors and radars for maritime surveillance and reconnaissance, and to snoop on submarines. It can also be fitted with the Harpoon all-weather anti-ship missiles made by Boeing.
The aircraft–a variant of the U.S. navy’s P-8A Poseidon plane–can also be used for anti-piracy and other intelligence operations. It was deployed in 2014 when India joined the multinational search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It is currently being used in the search for an Indian air force AN-32 aircraft that went missing on Friday over the Bay of Bengal.
Why does India want the jets?
The latest acquisition of the P-8I is a milestone in India’s strategy to replace its aging equipment, much of which was bought from Russia during the Soviet era. The twin-engine jet has a range of about 2,222 kilometers, or more than 1,200 nautical miles, which allows the Indian navy to monitor the country’s vast coastline.
Has this got anything to do with China?
India’s expansion of the P-8I fleet comes as China increases its naval presence in the Indian Ocean, alarming New Delhi.
In recent years, China has been improving its submarine power with a nuclear-powered sub travelling all the way to the Persian Gulf via Sri Lanka. China and India are also locked in a long-running land-border dispute.
The new planes will bolster India’s capabilities to keep an eye on movement on Chinese warships and submarines in the region.
What else is on the shopping list?
India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has promised to upgrade the country’s military capabilities. But a long-delayed deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation S.A. of France is still being negotiated–more than a year after it was announced.
India also has plans to buy howitzers, warships, submarines, as well as to acquire fighter jets.