The Indian Defence Ministry has trimmed the purchase of Boeing-made P-8I spy planes by half for the Indian Navy. Earlier, the Navy had planned to purchase 10 long-range anti-submarine warfare aircraft from the American manufacturer at a cost of around $3 billion.
Defence sources said the ministry approved the procurement of only six P-8I aircraft for the Navy against the earlier plan of 10 such planes. A commercial contract worth around $1.8 billion is expected to be finalised in 24 months. This purchase would be in addition to the earlier contracted 12 planes a decade ago.
The decision to reduce the purchase was made amid concerns raised by the Navy over budget cuts for modernisation, especially against the backdrop of massive resources deployed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy earlier this year.
The government data revealed that the Indian Navy’s share in defence budget dropped from 18 percent in 2012-13 to 13.66 percent in 2019-20. The resource crunch issue was raised by Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh during a high-level naval commanders’ conference last month.
Out of the 12 contracted P-8I aircraft, eight have been delivered to India while four others are expected to join the Navy in three years.
India has already made permanent base for P-8I planes on Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, to monitor the movements of ships/vessels from the Strait of Malacca, one of the world's major maritime choke-points and a primary shipping route for Chinese vessels.
The Indian Navy is the first international customer for the P-8, which is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon that Boeing is developing for the US Navy.
Nevertheless, India’s government auditor Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG), responsible for scrutinising government expenditures, had noted down in a 2018 report that the aircraft does not fully meet the Indian Navy’s operational requirements.