Two 4-cell C-802 anti-ship missile launchers on board Pakistan Navy's Zulfiqar. Photo by Mak Hon Keong.
Two 4-cell C-802 anti-ship missile launchers on board Pakistan Navy's Zulfiqar. Photo by Mak Hon Keong.

P-3C Vs. P-8I: India, Pakistan And The Naval Balance – Analysis


By Vijay Sakhuja

Naval aviation is an important part of the naval strategy of India and Pakistan. The Pakistan navy took the lead in the sub-continent in terms of introducing the Atlantique long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Sea King helicopters fitted with anti-ship missiles. It also acquired the US supplied P3C Orion with Harpoon missiles.

Although the Indian naval leadership had acknowledged the role of and the need for long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft as force multipliers, these platforms were late entrants in the Indian naval force structure. The current Indian LRMP inventory comprises of the Russian origin Tupolev-142 and Ilyushin-38, which have been upgraded; and a few Dornier aircraft. There have been attempts to fit missiles on some of these platforms with mixed results.

In 2009, India signed a contract worth US$ 3.9 billion with Boeing to supply 8 P-8 Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA). The first P-8I (I for the Indian variant) was handed over to the Indian navy in December 2012 and is currently undergoing trials and crew training. The balance seven aircraft will be delivered in 2013 (two) and 2015 (seven). India is the first international customer for the P-8, and the acquisition of the platform is a good example of the growing Indo-US naval cooperation.

The on-board equipment of the P-8I is similar to that of the P-8A of the US navy, but a number of equipment and sub-assemblies developed by Indian Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU) and private companies have been fitted. The P-8I has a range of over 1200 nautical miles, is capable of in-flight refuelling, and can remain on task at a station for 4 hours. Its weapon suite includes the Harpoon Block II anti-ship missile, Mk-54 torpedoes, and depth charges.

The Harpoon missile is not new to the Indian sub-continent and therefore merits attention. In 2005, the US transferred nine P3C Orion aircraft and 60 Harpoon (40 air-launched and 20 ship launched) missiles to Pakistan. The total package – including a ‘close-in-weapon system’ was worth US$ 970 million. There were concerns among Indian naval planners, as the US had defended the sale of the hardware citing Pakistan’s legitimate self-defence capability.

In May 2011, two Pakistan navy P3C Orion aircraft were destroyed in a terrorist attack on PNS Mehran naval airbase in Karachi. During the 21st meeting of the US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group (DCG) in December 2012, Pakistan had requested the US for replacements of the P3C Orion aircraft to make up for the losses and it was noted, “The provision of three or four more such aircraft would also help increase the counterterrorism capacity of Pakistani navy.”

The P-8I aircraft is designed for a number of roles and missions including surveillance, reconnaissance, detection, and prosecution of surface and subsurface targets at sea, imaging targets in the littorals, and search and rescue. The Arabian Sea is likely to be high on Indian navy’s deployment priorities where it must contend with the Pakistan navy.

The Pakistan navy has acquired Augusta 90 B submarines fitted with AIP system and there are plans to equip these platforms with Harpoon Block II missiles. Interestingly, the Pakistan naval leadership has noted that these submarines can be modified to deliver nuclear weapons. There have been speculations that Israel may have developed technological capability to miniaturise a nuclear warhead to be fitted on a Harpoon missile. Apparently, the US navy had spotted missiles being tested by an Israeli submarine in the Indian Ocean. It is quite unlikely that Pakistan has the technological knowhow to develop a miniaturised nuclear warhead of such sophistication unless it can obtain assistance from China, which has supported its nuclear weapons programme.

At another level, it is interesting that the Indian navy did not explore the possibility of equipping the P-8I with the Brahmos missile. There could have been at least two reasons: first, the Brahmos is a joint project of the Indian and Russian companies called Brahmos Aerospace, and there may be contractual limitations precluding its fitment on US origin platforms. Second, India has been attempting to diversify its military acquisitions to avoid overdependence on a single source; and in that context, the US naval hardware is a good alternative.

Finally, the P-8I is a significant addition to the Indian navy’s armoury. It is a force multiplier and can significantly augment the maritime air surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat capabilities of the Indian navy. It would have to be cleverly deployed keeping in mind that the Pakistan navy is also equipped with Harpoon missiles and has a good knowledge of the missile’s technical parameters and exploitation doctrine. However, the P-8I is a technologically advanced platform as compared to the P3C Orion, and can offer technological edge over the Pakistan navy.

Vijay Sakhuja
Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
E-mail: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

7 thoughts on “P-3C Vs. P-8I: India, Pakistan And The Naval Balance – Analysis”

  1. What a shame. First 4 scorpene submarines will not have AIP technology and the last two will also not have it because of delays. Then what is the use of these submarines when it is pitted against Agosta 90B class submarines. What if these Agosta submarines fall into the hands of Pakistani terrorists funded and trained by ISI.

  2. Calling wolf is India’s game, it is shameless in this regard, look at the size of your country and your purchases. Pakistan has a a little force compared to yours.
    How many terrorist have you seen acquire the knowledge to use submarines?
    Just howling foul does not make sense. You folks have a paranoia, a tactic to buy more arms. You will never be a friend, as a matter of fact you have no friend in the region. You want to be a regional bully, Pakistan impedes that from happening. Living in peace is better then war mongering which you have done for decades. The West is a whore they want your business and ready to bend backward in order to please you. Thank God there is China to balance that.

    1. If India is the bully then how come Pakistan is always the country that has attacked India first ? Pakistan is one that sends terrorists to attack innocent Indian civilians and Pakistan is the one that houses all the terrorists and criminals who want to attack India ?
      If India does not have time to waste “bullying” anybody. And as to friends, who exactly is Pakistan’s “friend” ? Everybody from America to China is using Pakistan like a cheap whore for whatever they want. The terrorists use pakistan as a base, the criminals use it as a hideout, the Chinese use it to steal minerals from Afghanistan and enter the Indian Ocean, the American use it wage war in Afghanistan. Who hasn’t “used” Pakistan like a whore ? Even Arab nations like UAE, Saudi Arabia etc only want your cheap labor to clean their floors and wash their buildings and drive their taxies.

      1. Have you read the news the Indian Govt shattered after reading the news Saudi altered their law for their employees…which mean Indians were also staying their with work permit

  3. Interesting article by Mr Vijay Shukla.But why is he comparing Indian Naval capabilities against Pakistan Navy which is much smaller in all respects and just a tactical defensive force for minimal defensive needs in Arabian Sea.India claims to be a blue water navy with three commands and three to four large naval fleets likely to be based on aircraft carriers and what not? What for? What is the threat? To frighten small Indian Ocean littoral states? Why doesn’t India spare this large defense expenditure to alleviate the poverty of her very large poor classes and let others ,specially the regional smaller countries also live in peace? For Heavens sake promote peace and do not be a war monger of and hegemon of the region. In any case this is a good eye opener fo all the littoral states of Indian Ocean. There is a big future bully in the making!

  4. @rashid Zaidi
    ” You will never be a friend, as a matter of fact you have no friend in the region.”
    these words are right…we are surrounded by china and co…

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