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India moves to buy 6 more Poseidons from US for $1.8bn

India has formally kicked off the acquisition process for six more long-range Poseidon-8I aircraft from the US, while a plan is also underway for fast-track procurement of six Predator-B armed drones amidst the ongoing military confrontation with China.

India is extensively using the naval P-8I patrol planes, which are packed with radars and electro-optic sensors as well as armed with Harpoon Block-II missiles and MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, for surveillance missions over the Indian Ocean as well as eastern Ladakh.

The Navy had inducted eight Boeing-manufactured P-8I aircraft under a $2.1 billion deal inked in January 2009, while the next four will be delivered from this December onwards under another $1.1 billion contract signed in July 2016.

Top defence sources on Friday said the “letter of request” for six more P-8Is for around $1.8 billionhas now been issued to the US for the government-to-government deal under Pentagon’s foreign military sales (FMS) programme. “The US, in turn, will soon send the ‘letter of acceptance’ after congressional approval. The contract should be inked by early next year,” said a source.

Concurrently, the armed forces are examining “an emergency procurement” of six Predator-B or weaponized Sea Guardian drones from the US in wake of the ongoing confrontation with China along the 3,488-km long Line of Actual Control, especially in eastern Ladakh.

“The original plan for the 30 Predators will take some more time. Meanwhile, the utilization of the fast-track procurement (FTP) route for acquiring six of these drones – two each for the three Services – is now under active consideration,” said another source.

It will be a huge jump in unmanned lethal capability for the armed forces if the “hunter-killer” Sea Guardians, with their advanced ground control stations, launch and recovery elements, air-to-ground missiles, smart bombs and the like, are actually acquired by India.

The inking of the bilateral military pact with the US called COMCASA (Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement) in September 2018 has paved the way for greater access to advanced military technologies with encrypted and secure communications and data links from the country.

The six new P-8I aircraft, for instance, will have COMCASA-protected equipment, which are much more advanced and secure than the commercially available ones. The Sea Guardians also have such equipment like advanced Global Positioning System (GPS), Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) receiver and VHF system, which are immune to jamming and spoofing from enemies.