Why phase out Tu-142s? Get more of them.

The Indian Navy seems desperately eager to acquire an all-P8i Poseidon fleet and phase out, as quickly as affordable, the eight multi-role Tu-142 long range turboprop aircraft currently deployed in MR, ASW, and anti-ship (AS) roles out of the naval airbase at Arrakonam. This must be a fairly recent decision to retire the Tupolevs acquired in the 1980s because, not too long ago, the navy had procured from Ukraine a modified rotating system of weapons carriage in its bomb-bay to enable easier, more effective, delivery of ordnance. Much of that investment is thus wasted. But it is a bad move for another reason. While an additional eight P-8is have been ordered from Boeing, these will not all be inducted for another 5-6 years. Meanwhile, Russia has made it known it has 20 of the newer version of the Tu-142, which can be modified with the rotator system-equipped bomb-bay and fitted to fire the Brahmos AS cruise missile in case India is interested, and which could be secured for a reasonable sum. So, instead of just one P-8i MR squadron, India could trade in its eight for the newer Tupolevs and buy eight more of the same and constitute a second MR/ASW/AS Tu-142 squadron.

This is also by way of a precautionary measure. One can never tell when Washington may decide to over-ride contractual obligations and, with legislative prompting, cutoff spares and service support for the Poseidon fleet, and leave India stranded w/o any MR/ASW/AS complement, which will happen if there’s no fallback option. Remember how the Sea King unit was grounded in the aftermath of the 1998 N-tests when sanctions were abruptly imposed because, even though the helicopter was UK-sourced, it had a US component that Washington expressly denied the Indian Navy?

It is strategic thinking. If one is dependent on imported arms — then best to secure the same genus of item — if it is at all feasible — from rival vendor camps. (For those who’ll see in this recommendation an inconsistency — won’t securing French Rafales reduce dependence on Russia, etc, the difference is that the alternative to Rafale is the indigenous Tejas Mk-II.) With PLAN growing its presence in the Indian Ocean in the future, there’s no such thing as too many long range MR/ASW/AS warfare aircraft. And we better not get into a position of vulnerability where any particular vendor country can shut down so critical a capability.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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6 Responses to Why phase out Tu-142s? Get more of them.

  1. Sriram Datla says:

    I think you should send these suggestions to the RM or PM.

  2. Hopefully, someone from the PMO, RM’s office reads this blog!

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    If a Navy is facing a opponent good in Sub warfare then it needs to blunt that edge and make it expensive for the opponent. Chase the opponent so bad that the opponent decides to rather go back to its own waters. But the problem is that even an advanced Sonar works only upto say 50 Km ranges in Monostatic arrangements. With Bistatic it probably will go upto 90 km. With Multistatics probably somewhat more. With littoral performance for even the advanced Towed Sonars the ranges will probably be maxing out around 25 km [SQQ-89(V)15 towed arrays]. With these kind of limitations it makes sense to mount more and more Sonars on every conceivable vessel and to make ASW a prime mission for the Navy. And for that to be achieved it is important:
    1) that every conceivable anti-surface-target mission be assigned to longer ranged aircrafts. Once these longer ranged aircrafts are airborne they do not have any counter that the opposing Navy can muster.
    2) that you deploy more of SSKs in the Bistatic arrangement, themselves keeping quite. That means more money then justa a P-75I project every 1 or 2 decades.
    3) use the bigger ships for ocean ASW and the smaller vessels for Littoral ASW.
    4) that the hunt be changed from P-8I coming in to deploy Sonobouys (limited by LOS…probably to around 15 km in clear waters for upto 10 hours) for the benefit of SSKs in the region to that of persistent chase for days using multistatic arrangements of Ships ans SSKs. Waiting for the enemy Sub to peek and be caught on the ISAR is not a plan. What if they do not at all peek for extended period of times. Or rather for at most what is required for the P-8I to lose its endurance.

    IN may be short of cash but even a poor navy should be able to keep such assets as the Tu142 in reserves. P-8I may be good but they are not going to be enough pretty soon. And the Indian R&D will produce copious Sonars of different kinds much before they can churn out P-8I equivalents. Makes sense to leverage indigenous efforts to the greatest possible extent.

    This make special sense when you notice that Chinese subs are of the kind that can stay put in the IOR for long periods of time. Currently with focus being on the surface warfare esp. Aircraft Carriers, is it any wonder that the Chinese are confident of shutting down IOR with just 10-12 SSNs. We need a refocus and Tu-142 are capable of giving that kind of help at dirt cheap prices, by basically freeing up the rest of the Navy for more challenging work optimally utilizing the available resources. In fact we should be buying mrore of this long distance capabilities and probably even deploy Tu142s on the Andaman etc. This one deployment will give more muscle to Act East policy then all the rest of diplomatic tact waghera. The massive deployment potential that Tu142s can bring should not be ignored. Once airborne there is an absolute capability to hit out at exceedingly long ranges and presenting that challenge to the enemy for extended periods of time.

    If the IN wishes for a disproportionate jump in its capabilities then it must utilize maximally the ariel warfare route. And if we give up the Tu142 route then we will most likely become dependent on the Americans for our Naval policing for good.

  4. Raahul Kumar says:

    Another alternative is the Kawasaki P-1. It makes more sense to make the planes in desh, rather than import them. We have already come to an agreement with making US-2 seaplane, why not intensity our relationship with the country that is most likely to help us fight our next war?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kawasaki_P-1

  5. Sriram Datla says:

    Sir instead of P 18I why can’t we order the RUSSIAN TU 214R which is being used in syria. We can count on the russians.

  6. Peter Parker says:

    I agree with Bharat Karnad. The Navy is compromised. I don’t see why these long range strategic platforms (still used by Russia) have to be retired. In fact I would order 20 more and give it to the strategic bureau for use. Very stupid. Relying on the P8 datalink means that the INS data link has been compromised.

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