Also known as the ‘Bear’ by NATO and ‘Albatross’ by the Indian Navy, due to its long wingspan, the Soviet era aircraft provided India with the required surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Making it a force to reckon with not only in the Indian Ocean Region, but across the world.
This is the story of this beast of a machine.
The birth of the ‘Bear’
The Soviet Union designed and tested several such aircraft before the Tu-95, known as the ‘Bear’ by NATO, came into existence for this purpose.
On February 28, 1963 the Soviet Union issued an order to aerospace company, Tupolev (Russian), to develop an aircraft with search and targeting system and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. It was based on the Tu-95RTs (a variant of the Tu-95 meant for maritime reconnaissance and targeting).
What was produced were the Tu-142s, also known as Bears.
The Bear comes to India
After the de-induction of the Super Constellation in 1983, the Tu-142M (an updated version) Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft, was inducted into the Indian Navy at Dabolim, Goa from erstwhile USSR in 1988.
The first three
INAS 312 has the unique distinction of operating the Tu-142M, which is the world’s heaviest, fastest and highest flying turboprop aircraft.
The aircraft has participated in major Indian naval exercises and operations. It saw action during Operation Cactus in Maldives. It has participated in operational missions off Sri Lanka to provide airborne surveillance. It has also rendered its service in Op Vijay in 1998, Op Parakram in 2002 and anti-piracy operations from 2011 onwards.
Despite being in its twilight year, the aircraft performed exceptionally well during the recently conducted Naval Exercise TROPEX in March this year.
Speed and stealth
It has sensors that can detect low noise, nuclear powered submarines. It can carry torpedoes, free fall bombs and depth charges.
In 2008, the Albatross got sharper sight by fitting the ELTA Radar from Israel in it.
Welcoming the next generation
The P-8I aircraft has proven all its systems and has been fully integrated into the operational grid of the Indian Navy.
The previous Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had inducted the P-8I on November 13, 2015. It will be the third kind of aircraft after the Lockheed L1049G Super Constellation and the Tu-142M to be operated by INAS 312 squadron.
The P-8I aircraft is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft that Boeing developed as a replacement for the US Navy’s ageing P-3 fleet.
Capabilities of the P8I
With its high speed and high endurance of about 10 hours, the aircraft has been pitted to be capable of maintaining a watch over India’s immediate and extended areas of interest.
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