After INS VIRAAT, INDIAN NAVY to now retire Tu 142M Albatross Patrol aircrafts; P8I Neptunes to Replace them
Another iconic naval platform is now set for retirement after aircraft carrier INS Viraat. The Soviet-origin Tupolev-142M aircraft, which helped the force keep a hawk-eye on enemy warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for almost 30 years, will be decommissioned later this month.
The world’s largest and fastest turboprop aircraft, aptly named the ‘Albatross,’ the Navy had inducted eight TU-142Ms since 1988. “They were the backbone of our long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) and anti-submarine warfare operations. But only three are fully operational now. They will now be retired at the naval air station INS Rajali in Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu at a ceremony on March 29,” said an officer.
The TU-142Ms are being replaced by the 12 Poseidon-8I long-range patrol aircraft- eight have already been inducted- acquired from the US for $3.2 billion. Packed with radars and armed with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges to destroy enemy submarines, the Navy also operates the P-8Is from INS Rajali.
The fuel-guzzling TU-142M aircraft were the first true LRMR of the Indian Navy. With a 50-metre wing-span and a combat radius of 6,500-km, the TU-142M has a speed of around 850 kmph. “They also have the highest flying altitude among turboprops, with an operational ceiling of over 13,000 metre,” said an officer.
With a 10-member crew, the TU-142Ms can also carry at least five torpedoes as well as free-fall bombs and depth charges. “But the sensors and weapon systems of TU-142Ms have become outdated with age, apart from requiring heavy maintenance and costly spare parts,” said an officer.“If the TU-142Ms were hawk-eyes, the P-8Is are far more potent intelligent hawk-eyes,” he added. This comes in the backdrop of Chinese submarines, both conventional as well as nuclear, making forays into the IOR on a regular basis now, with an operational turnaround at Karachi, as was earlier reported by TOI.Much like the TU-142Ms earlier, the P-8Is now work in conjunction with medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft like the IL-38s and Israeli Searcher-II and Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to establish a three-tier surveillance grid in IOR.
Apart from the need to take care of its primary area of strategic interest stretching from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, India also has a vast 5,422-km coastline, 1,197 islands and 2.01 million sq km of Exclusive Economic Zone to guard against all threats.