In January 2009, the wheels began turning on pair of follow-on buys covering short and medium range manned aircraft for India’s Navy and Coast Guard. That effort stalled out, restarted with a 2013 RFP.
India’s growing power is creating growing naval responsibility around the Indian Ocean, from the strategic chokepoint and shipping channel represented by Indonesia’s Straits of Malacca in the east, to anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and basing agreements with Madagascar in the west. Hence the January 2009 deal for 8-16 of Boeing’s 737-derived P-8i Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, which will replace Russian-built TU-142s as India’s long-range patrol aircraft.
Closer to home, however, India has its own long coastline to patrol, and neighbors like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan that represent existing or potential trouble spots along its borders. The P-8i will work in those problem areas, but less-expensive and shorter-range aircraft are needed to supplement their coverage. Inshore, and at strategic locations like Nicobar Isand, new Dornier Do-228NG aircraft, and UAVs like India’s Israeli-built Searcher and Heron UAVs, provide solid local coverage. In between, medium sized manned aircraft must fill their own niches in India’s Navy and its Coast Guard.
India’s MRMR and MMP Competitions
India boasts a 3,370 mile/ 5,425 km long coastline, and its EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) is estimated cover an area of around 77,000+ square miles/ 200,000 square kilometers. That ensures a lot of in-between territory for mid-sized sea control aircraft to cover, and there’s no question that the aircraft are needed. As with so very many Indian buys, however, even reaching the RFP stage can be a long journey.
In 2009, India’s Ministry of Defence issued an RFP for 6 medium-range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft, to replace its aging Britten-Norman Islander fleet. That RFP was withdrawn in 2009, but a set of twin RFIs were issued in 2010 for MRMR, and the Coast Guard’s MMP (Medium Maritime Patrol) requirement. An RFP is now expected in April 2012, for 6 MRMR planes + 6 options, worth around $1 billion all told.
The 2012 MRMR requirements reportedly do not include anti-submarine capability, which adds cost and often forces the use of a larger plane. It will be an armed aircraft, however, and the 2010 RFI suggests that it will be required to carry both torpedoes, and some form of anti-ship missile.
That would represent a big upgrade over the existing Britten-Norman Islanders, which were bought in 1976. If the MRMR buy goes through, India’s existing Islander fleet may then be shifted to a training role, handed over to the coast guard, or even gifted to other countries. Two have already given as a gift to the Myanmar junta. If MRMR is stalled for too long, however, the Islander fleet’s age could create a problem for India.
The Indian coast guard’s requirements also reportedly involve 6 aircraft, but could rise. They will require less sophisticated equipment, but the wide range of roles could force a larger aircraft, unless India is expecting to address mission versatility using roll-on, roll-off kits. The 2010 RFI reportedly called for a diverse range of missions, including search and rescue, surface attack, environmental monitoring, and medical evacuation with 3 intensive care stations. Earlier reports suggested that the aircraft will need to have a range of over 500 nautical miles, and an endurance of around 6 hours.
MRMR & MMP: Rumored Contenders
There are persistent rumors that Boeing will offer a modified version of the P-8i to fill the medium range role as well. A modified P-8i would offer commonality, handle required industrial offsets smoothly, and may include some savings due to a larger order volume, but the platform itself is not cheap. Cost is likely to be the biggest stumbling block for this option.
Unsurprisingly, Boeing is starting to look at options beyond its P-8A. Bombardier’s Challenger 600 long-range business jet seems to be the target platform for the rumored “Maritime Surveillance Aircraft.” It would reportedly use the same core internal systems used aboard the P-8, but its sensor and weapon array would differ. The idea isn’t unprecedented. There’s also some talk in Britain of adding maritime patrol capabilities to its Challenger-based Sentinel R1 ground surveillance jets.
Beyond the P-8i, the other rumored MPA holdover is a maritime patrol version of Dassault’s Falcon 900, which was reportedly submitted by Israel’s IAI Elta in the competition that the P-8i eventually won. The tri-engined aircraft offers more attractive operating costs than a P-8, and its 4,100-4,500 nautical mile/ 7,600-8,330 km unrefueled range would allow for deployments across the Indian Ocean, as well as long patrols of India’s coastline. Israel has a good reputation for delivering India capable and reliable military equipment, and a MRMR aircraft that can also fill high-end roles may be attractive, but the Falcon 900 will be more expensive than several of the other rumored contenders.
A 2nd rumored IAI option would be its ELI-3360 modification of Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop. It would offer less range and performance, in exchange for lower costs. Dash-8 models serve with the Coast Guards of several nations, and operate in maritime patrol roles, but they haven’t been armed. August 2013 reports suggested that this would be the option offered, but the Israelis play their cards very close to the chest.
Embraer P-99, Brazil
In a similar vein, Brazil’s Embraer modifies its own ERJ-145 regional jets into sophisticated surveillance platforms. India’s DRDO is already using this model as the base for a locally-produced mid-tier AEW&C airspace control plane, and other Embraer versions exist for land and maritime surveillance.
The P-99 MPA/ EMB-145MP has been ordered by Mexico (2), and an armed variant is rumored as a contender for India’s MRMR as well. At 1,876 miles/ 3,019 km, its range is less than the Falcon’s, but still more than adequate for the requirement. Embraer, like Canada’s Bombardier, is working to make inroads into India’s civil aviation industry, and those efforts will help position the firm for industrial offset requirements.
Antonov AN-148-300 MP, Russia
In 2009, Antonov touted a maritime patrol version of their jet-powered AN-74 transport, which was unveiled to the broader aviation public at Aero India 2009. By 2013, however, the firm had shifted course, and confirmed that they’d offer the AN-148-300 MP instead. It’s also a high-wing twin-jet, but the engines are mounted under the wings, instead of within them. The general tradeoff between a transport like the AN-74 and a regional passenger jet like the AN-148 is a swap of short-takeoff and internal load for more efficient operation at altitude, which usually translates into better maritime range and time on station.
In India’s case, the AN-148 is also competing for the military’s light transport requirement, and a handful are in service with Indian civilian carriers. Antonov is still competing for more civilian sales in India. Success would improve the possibility of military maintenance partnerships with local airlines, which can cut costs while offering the required industrial offsets.
The next 3 rumored contenders are turboprops. They offer more economical low-level flight costs than jets, in exchange for shorter ranges, and slower transit time to patrol areas or emergency situations.
Alenia ATR-42/72, Italy
EADS subsidiary ATR and Alenia Aeronautica have crated variants of popular ATR regional passenger turboprops, for military use. The ATR-72 ASW has been ordered by Turkey to fulfill maritime patrol requirements. It offers a long Magnetic Anomaly Detector in the back that helps it find submarines, and pylons/launchers for weapons. It is rumored to be an MRMR candidate.
The smaller ATR-42 Surveyor includes only sophisticated surveillance gear. It has already been ordered by Italy, Nigeria, and Libya, and has attracted interest from Pakistan. It’s a rumored candidate for the Indian Coast Guard’s MMP.
Airbus Military C295 ASW, Spain
EADS other subsidiary EADS-CASA has carved out a leading role for its maritime surveillance turboprops, and passed that along as part of the expanded Airbus military division. The CN-235MP Persuader is in service with a number of countries, including the US Coast Guard, and has just been ordered by South Korea’s Coast Guard. Unsurprisingly, it’s a rumored candidate for India’s Coast Guard MPP. If so, it’s likely to be a very strong candidate, and the affiliation with Airbus gives them good industrial benefits options.
The larger C-295 ASW has been ordered by Chile. It uses the same surveillance core as the CN-235 Persuader, and is equipped with under-wing stations to carry weapons and other stores. A common MRMR/MPP purchase is possible using the C-295, as modified C-295 light transport aircraft already serve in a search and rescue role with a number of countries.
Lockheed Martin SC-130 “Sea Hercules”, USA
The 4-engine C-130J Hercules is in wide use around the world as a transport aircraft, including India. A number of specialty variants have been designed with roll-on/ roll-off containers, and armed variants have added hardpoints on the wings. The “Sea Hercules” is being designed to a $150 million cost, and will be developed in 3 stages:
Stage 1 will involve roll-on/ bolt-on radar and electro-optical sensors, and accompanying processing workstations.
Stage 2 would add wing-mounted, anti-surface weapons, along with upgraded workstations and weapon control systems.
Stage 3 would be a full anti-submarine conversion, including sonobuoys, a magnetic anomaly detector boom, extra fuel pods, and 2 added bays for 6 Harpoon missiles.
Saab 2000 MPA
In May 2011, Saab joined the competition, offering its Saab 2000 MPA turboprop, along with the firm’s phased array maritime radar and RBS-15 anti-ship and land attack missiles. Like many other MRMR competitors (R-99, Falcon, AN-148, ATR-72), the aircraft is a modified business/ regional transport plane.
In its Maritime Patrol role, the Saab 2000 MPA maintains a cruising speed of 350 knots, and can operate at a maximum range exceeding 2,000 nautical miles, with mission endurance exceeding 9.5 hours. Those figures depend on conditions and flight profiles, of course – the same plane would cover a 200 nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for 5.5 hours at an altitude of only 2,000 ft, or extend patrol times by flying up to 31,000 feet and relying on its radar. Saab is also touting the 2000 MPA’s ability to operate from high altitude airfields, taking off with maximum load and fuel even at very hot temperatures.
Saab also offers an AWACS variant of this aircraft family for airspace command and control, and counts Pakistan among its customers. That’s good, in that it offers proven operational capability in similar conditions. It’s bad because India has historically been reluctant to share platforms with Pakistan, but that has happened – vid. IL-76/78 transports. The RBS-15 Mk.3 is a fine missile, but it may also be a drawback. Success depends on India’s reaction to adding yet another anti-ship missile type, on top of its existing stocks of Russian (Klub, BrahMos), French (Exocet), and American (Harpoon) weapons.
Contracts and Key Events
2012 – 2019
2nd RFP issued.
July 25/19: Fifth Dornier Squadron The Indian Navy has commissioned Indian Naval Air Squadron 313, the fifth Dornier maritime patrol aircraft squadron, at a ceremony on July 22, local news reports. The squadron will operate from Chennai International Airport. The squadron will operate Dornier multi-role short range maritime reconnaissance aircraft in a range of missions including maritime surveillance, search and rescue operations and providing targeting data to weapon platforms. The Dorniers are twin-turboprop STOL utility aircraft. From 1981 until 1998 Dornier GmbH produced the aircraft. In 1983 Hindustan Aeronautics bought a production license and manufactured 125 aircraft. The Indian Navy is procuring 12 Dornier aircraft with improved sensors and equipment including glass cockpit, advanced surveillance radar, electronic intelligence, optical sensors and networking capabilities.
Aug 23/13: RFP. India’s Ministry of Defense has reportedly issued its RFP for 9 Indian Navy medium-range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft, plus 38 anti-ship missiles. The RFP was reportedly sent to Airbus Military, Alenia, Antonov, Boeing, Embraer, IAI Elta, Lockheed Martin, and Saab. All are covered in the contenders section.
The specifications could be a problem, however, which is common in Indian competitions. The RFP states the aircraft must fly a transit of 400 nmi at 300 knots, and patrol 400 nmi for 4 hours at a height of 10,000 feet. This profile would be flown with 2 missiles underwing, and the missiles would need a minimum range of about 50 nmi.
The 300 knot transit speed will be challenging for armed turboprops like the C295 MPA. Meanwhile, the missile requirement excludes low-cost options like Kongsberg’s Penguin, and would even bar MBDA’s AM39 Block 2 Exocet (70 km/ 37.8 nmi). Sources: AIN, “Indian Navy Requests New Patrol Aircraft”
RFP #2 issued
Feb 5/13: Antonov. Antonov announces that their MRMR submission will be based on the AN-148 high-wing twin-jet regional jetliner, which is a shift from the AN-74MP mentioned in its February 2009 announcement. Antonov is also reportedly offering the AN-148 for India’s light cargo aircraft replacement program, where the AN-74’s full capabilities are unnecessary.
Antonov seems to be hoping that military commonality benefits will improve their odds of success in both competitions. In India’s case, the AN-148 also offers commonality with 3 Indian civilian carriers, who signed deals at Aero India 2010. Antonov is hoping to leverage the jet’s good performance in hot weather and high altitudes into more civilian sales, and sees a potential Indian market for up to 80 civil aircraft in this class. More civilian success offers the possibility of military maintenance partnerships with local airlines, which can cut costs while offering the required industrial offsets.
Aug 28/12: Boeing: too big? Boeing is starting to look at options beyond its P-8A, because their customers are saying that they don’t need its full versatility, and find its $200 million price tag prohibitive. Bombardier’s Challenger 600 seems to be the target platform, and the resulting plane would probably sacrifice weapon carrying capability in order to be a specialty surveillance plane. The idea isn’t unprecedented. There’s also some talk in Britain of adding maritime patrol capabilities to its Challenger-based Sentinel R1 ground surveillance jets.
They’ll be joined in the mid-tier market by another American firm. Lockheed Martin is working on an SC-130J Sea Hercules modification, and the firm says they expect to sign at least one contract “in North Africa.” It’s designed as a $150 million alternative, to be developed in 3 stages. Stage 1 will involve roll-on/ bolt-on radar and electro-optical sensors, and accompanying processing workstations. Stage 2 would add wing-mounted, anti-surface weapons, along with upgraded workstations and weapon control systems. Stage 3 would be a full anti-submarine conversion, including sonobuoys, a magnetic anomaly detector boom, extra fuel pods, and 2 added bays for 6 Harpoon missiles. Sources: Defense News, “Smaller Maritime Patrol Aircraft Built for Tight Budgets”.
April 2/12: Flight International reports that new MRMR and MPP RFPs are imminent.
Feb 27/12: MRMR Back on. Indian media report that India’s government has finally approved the navy’s proposal to acquire up to 9 MRMR advanced medium range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, which is expected to cost upwards of $1 billion. The MRMR project got the “acceptance of necessity” from the Cabinet’s Defence Acquisitions Council. India Defence | Times of India.
Revived at 9 planes
2009 – 2011
MRMR RFP issued, then withdrawn.
May 30/11: Saab. Saab has announced that they’ll bid on MRMR with their Saab 2000 platform, equipped with a new phased array maritime search radar and Saab’s RBS-15 anti-ship missiles.
Saab invested in Indian partnerships in its bid for the MMRCA fighter competition. That bid is currently stalled or failed, but the MRMR bid can leverage the work they’ve already done on industrial partners, etc. Defense Update.
2010: MRMR & MPP RFIs.
2009: MRMR RFP withdrawn.
March 3/09: Do-228 NGs. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) in Kanpur, India has supplied the first set of Dornier 228 NG of fuselage, wings and tail to RUAG Aerospace Services GmbH in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. First delivery of the 10-plane Indian order for short-mid range maritime aircraft is scheduled to take place early in 2010.
This will be the platform one tier below MRMR. RUAG release.
Feb 11-15/09: AN-74MP. Antonoc ASC announces that its AN-74MP, which it is unveiling at Aero India 2009, is a candidate for this competition:
“At present, this version of the aircraft is being studied by experts of MoD of India within the frame of tender on delivery of 6 aircraft of such a class for Navy and Coast Guard of the country. The new AN-74 is prepared to fulfill with a high efficiency a wide spectrum of military tasks… A new version of AN-74 differs from its predecessors with a number of considerable improvements. It made possible realization of conception of a radical modernization of the AN-74, developed by ANTONOV specialists in cooperation with the partners including those from France, Germany and Sweden. It includes mounting the glass cockpit, the newest instruments of piloting, navigation and communication. Besides, power plant and APU, aircraft and engine control systems, fuel, hydraulic systems and many others.”
Jan 12/09: RFP & Do-228s. Reports surface that India’s Navy and Coast Guard have issued their MRMR solicitations, and rumored candidates are identified in the press.
India Defence adds that “the Navy will also be getting 11 new Dornier short-range aircraft,” which is confirmed by later events. In 1983, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. bought a production license for the Do-228, and the Swiss firm RUAG Aerospace will commence building the Dornier 228 New Generation model at Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany using structural parts supplied by HAL. The main changes in the NG model are a new 5-blade propeller made of composite material for improved performance, as well as an advanced digital (“glass”) cockpit and avionics.
New short-range aircraft
While it’s mentioned in the photo pop-out, DID would like to publicly thank reader Ardavan Kazemi for his AN-148-200 MP pictures, snapped at Aero India 2013.