India is set to begin a competition for six medium-range maritime patrol aircraft, with the fleet to complement the eight Boeing P-8Is that New Delhi ordered earlier this month.
The medium-range aircraft are to replace the Indian navy's 12 Britten-Norman Islanders, which the service hopes to begin retiring from around 2013. It plans to either transfer the Islanders to the Indian coastguard, or convert them for use as trainers. Myanmar, which sourced two Islanders from India for its coastguard several years ago, could also be a recipient, say industry sources.
"Our country needs newer aircraft with a bigger range than the Islanders to effectively patrol our long coastline," says a source close to the Indian defence ministry. "Several aircraft, both jets and turboprops, could be in contention for this contract." A request for proposals could come out imminently and a decision should follow within a year, the source adds.
One leading contender is likely to be Brazil's Embraer, which already has a maritime patrol version of its EMB-145 and is helping to modify the same type for an indigenous Indian air force airborne early warning and control requirement.
However, Embraer is likely to face keen competition from turboprop alternatives such as maritime patrol variants of the ATR 72 and the EADS Casa C-295. Boeing could also offer a modified version of the P-8I, while Israel's Elta Systems has been pushing a maritime patrol variant of the Dassault Falcon 900 business jet.
India's coastguard also requires around six maritime patrol aircraft through a separate tender, with the ATR 42 and EADS Casa CN-235 possible contenders.
India is the first export customer for Boeing's P-8, having selected the type to replace its navy Tupolev Tu-142 turboprops. Observers say the nation needs to augment its maritime patrol capabilities due to growing tensions with neighbours such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the growing influence of China in the Indian Ocean, and the rise of piracy in the Arabian Sea.