The Indian Navy is set to float a global tender for maritime reconnaissance aircraft (MRA), Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta has said. Admiral Mehta also said that along with MRA''s the Navy was also looking at developing and inducting a rotary wing unmanned aerial vehicle in order to enhance its surveillance capabilities.
According to Adm Mehta the navy was in talks with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the development of the rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle.
''We have completed our evaluations of various long range maritime patrol aircraft and a request for proposals (RFPs) should go out very soon,'' Mehta said ahead of the annual Navy Week celebrations starting from Tuesday.
The MRA''s are intended to replace the ageing fleet of eight Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-42s which are on the verge of completing their service life.
According to reports, the Indian Navy has already observed trials of MRA derivatives of the Airbus A-319 manufactured by EADS, Spain, and the Boeing P-8A Poseidon in the US sometime in July this year. These trials however involved simulations on the Airbus A-320 and the Boeing-737 platforms of representative flight profiles and mission system evaluations, as neither of the MRA derivatives actually exists.
The Boeing P-8A is scheduled to fly in late 2009, with operationalisation of the aircraft set for 2013. The EADS platform is expected to be ready around the same time.
Both manufacturers would also partner Indian companies to jointly develop communications, data-link and identification friend-or-foe (IFF) equipment keeping in mind New Delhi''s policy of indigenising its defence requirements.
In an attempt to further boost India-US strategic partnership, the Pentagon also has pledged to make additional technical, military capabilities available to New Delhi as the P-8A enters into service with the US military.
Other likely bidders for the Indian Navy contract are Israel Aerospace Industries and Elta Systems with a Dassault Falcon 900 business jet derivative, Lockheed Martin with a refurbished P-3C Orion, and a Russian aerospace consortium with the upgraded Ilyushin Il-38SD.
Though the Navy was more interested in longer range MRAs, currently under development, it however was ''seriously considering'' acquiring two or three of the existing shorter range aircraft as an interim measure to plug a vital operational void in patrolling India''s vast coastline, officials said.
According to these officials, the navy''s existing surveillance assets are insufficient to monitor the country''s 7,516 km coastline, 1,197 island territories and the 2.01 million sq km exclusive economic zone.
Apart from the Tu-42s, the navy currently operates two Il-38 MRAs upgraded to IL-38SD standards and equipped with the Sea Dragon system, 15 Dornier 228-101 aircraft and 12 Israeli Searcher and Heron-II unmanned aerial vehicles. Another three upgraded IL-38SDs are expected to join service by end-2008.
Rotary wing UAV
As for the rotary-wing UAV, Adm Mehta said that the Indian model would be based on a helicopter that the HAL was already manufacturing.
''I had personally initiated this project, based on a running helicopter that the HAL has indigenised. We chose HAL because we believe it can deliver a machine better than any other in the world,'' Mehta added.
The new machine could be based on the Lancer light attack helicopter, which HAL has derived from the Cheetah helicopter already in service with the armed forces for decades. The Cheetah is the HAL version of the French Aerospatiale Lama SA 315 helicopter.