NEW DELHI: Admiral Lanba said that air surveillance capability is an important subset of naval operations and that while the proposal was on the table, he could not disclose the required numbers.

The Indian Navy is considering the acquisition of more Boeing P-8I aircraft for surveillance and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), according to Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba.

In an interview to a magazine , Admiral Lanba said that air surveillance capability is an important subset of naval operations and that while the proposal was on the table, he could not disclose the required numbers.

His predecessors have spoken of a requirement of 30 Long-Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft, under which the navy has already inducted eight aircraft and placed an order for four more.

Because of the overall tardy process of routine modernisation of the armed forces over the last 30 years, the Indian Navy has not been able to renew its inventory of submarines but the acquisition of the P-8I (I stands for India) has given it a very strong offensive capability to detect and hunt hostile submarines.

In fact, in terms of contemporary weapon technologies, the P-8I, often referred to as the “submarine killer”, is perhaps the most advanced system that any of the three Indian services have acquired in recent years. The aircraft was deployed in 2013 by the Indian Navy around the same time the US Navy did.

The Defence Ministry has officially stated that the P-8I is “capable of thrusting a punitive response and maintaining a watch over India’s immediate and extended areas of interest”.

Asked about the growing number of hostile submarines in the Indian Ocean, nearer home in fact, Admiral Lanba said: “As a professional military force, we constantly evaluate the maritime security environment in our areas of interest. We lay a lot of stress on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). Accordingly, we are fully seized of the presence and likely intentions of all extra-regional forces operating in the Indian Ocean. Our Navy is fully capable and ever ready to meet any challenges that may arise in the maritime domain.”

Significantly, the agreement for the P-8Is was signed on January 1, 2009, within a couple of months of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks which exposed the vulnerability of the country’s maritime defences. The attack, in fact, triggered the government to clear quite a few proposals for the armed forces as well as to review what should be done to ensure security of Indian waters, particularly the coastal belts on the country’s eastern and western seaboards.

The Navy is now the nodal agency for coordinating surveillance through satellites and aircraft and a network of police and small boats has also been integrated into the system.

The Navy and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) also operate a number of HAL-made Dornier 228 aircraft, while some proposals for more LRMR and Medium-Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) have been on the table for the last few years.

Observed Admiral Lanba: “Every endeavour is being made to collectively ensure that our maritime security, of which coastal security is an important subset, is adequately strengthened.”

“A number of measures have been taken since 26/11 to strengthen maritime, coastal and offshore security by the concerned agencies in the country. These measures broadly include increasing capacity and capabilities of maritime security forces, enhanced surveillance and domain awareness of the maritime zones, increased regulation of maritime activities, streamlining intelligence-sharing between different agencies and strengthening overall maritime governance. There have been significant improvements in the operational response to developing situations at and from the seas,” he added.

At the national level, coordination of coastal security-related activities is being carried out by the National Committee for Strengthening Coastal and Maritime Security (NCSCMS).

The Navy had ordered eight P-8I aircraft in 2009 for $2.1 billion along with a training package. Weapons and torpedoes were extra as needed, and then, under the Options Clause, four more aircraft were ordered in August 2016.