Ramping up the Indian Navy’s surveillance capabilities, India is all set to sign a deal for the purchase of Japan’s US-2i amphibian planes. The almost $1.65 billion defence deal is expected to be cleared by the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) shortly, and will then be signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Japan visit later this week. The US-2 amphibian planes are known not only for their prowess in search and rescue operations, but also as a great addition to any country’s Navy in terms of surveillance.
ShinMaywa, the Japanese maker of the plane, claims that the US-2 is the world’s best short takeoff and landing (STOL) amphibian aircraft. The plane can land on rough seas with a wave height of around 3 metres. The US-2 can cruise at extremely low speeds of approximately 90 km/hr. The US-2 has an approximate operational range of 4,500 km and a cruise speed of 480 km/hr. The Indian government has reportedly been keen to acquire amphibious aircraft, not just for the fact that it will deepen the strategic partnership with Japan, but also that it would send a message to China. Both India and Japan are wary of China’s assertive behaviour in the Asia-Pacific region, and defence experts are of the view that US-2i will help India protect its assets better and enhance surveillance activities and abilities in the Indian Ocean Region.
Says Abhijit Singh of Observer Research Foundation (ORF), “Significantly for India, China’s growing maritime presence has created an imperative for Delhi to ramp up its operational logistics capability in the Eastern Indian Ocean.” Abhijit Singh is a former naval officer, who heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at ORF. Abhijit Singh goes on to explain, “The deal for US-2 has major implications for the India-Japan strategic partnership. It was stuck since 2014 because of bureaucratic delays and price issues. Also, India wanted Japan to make 10 aircraft under license in India. Japan thought the number was too less. Now, the price has been reduced by 10%, I think. There is no doubt that US-2 is a good strategic asset. Apart from the fact that it is a good aircraft for search and rescue, it will also enhance Indian Navy’s operational logistics. This would help greatly to the realization of Indian Navy’s strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean Region”.
According to Abhijit Singh, the US-2 acquisition would send the right message to China. “It will send a subtle message to China that India is deepening defence ties with Japan. China had recently commissioned a similar aircraft, so in that sense India’s acquisition sends a soft message. The message is by no means aggressive or provocative, because the US-2 does not in any way add to the combat capabilities,” he tells FE Online.
Colonel (retd) KV Kuber, an Independent Consultant on Defence and Aerospace points out to the fact that this would be the first defence export deal for Japan, since it opened up the option to sell military hardware. Apart from its strategic importance in the Indian Ocean Region, Colonel Kuber sees multiple benefits of the US-2. “The US-2 surpasses its competition, Bombardier and Beriev, pretty handsomely in terms of performance and technology. It is powered by Rolls Royce engine and comes out with amazing power across its wings. It can carry almost a platoon strength if not two sections on a military mission. It is also very effective in anti-piracy warfare,” he tells FE Online. According to him, the US-2 will complement the P8Is and will support vessels at sea in various forms, whether it is in terms of supply of critical spare parts, food, medical relief etc.
One very important use that Colonel Kuber sees is for the North-East region. “The aircraft can be used by the Indian Army effectively in the North-East, for flood relief operations and other amphibious operations in the Brahmaputra, Maujoli islands. Not only that, it can provide military connectivity to Assam, Arunachal by speedily crossing the seven channels of Brahmaputra. A versatile aircraft, one of its kind, the US-2 will provide a military edge with a multiplier effect when employed,” he elaborates.
Another defence expert and retired naval officer, who doesn’t wish to be named also sees the US-2 as a good addition to India’s maritime surveillance capabilities. “The US-2 will be deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar region. India has a vast coastline there. There is no doubt that the US-2 is superior to its counterparts, particularly with respect to its short takeoff and landing capability. The fact that it can operate at low speeds is also crucial in terms of search and rescue operations, when it ordinarily becomes difficult to spot rescue targets. Its range of around 4,500 km allows for the US-2 to be a formidable surveillance aircraft for the Indian Navy, especially in the Eastern region of the Indian Ocean and given the proximity to South China Sea,” he tells FE Online. “Given the wide circumference of operations that the US-2 would enable, the Indian Navy will get a good addition in its maritime surveillance capabilities,” he adds.
Earlier this year, India signed a pact with US defence major Boeing, for the purchase of four P-8I (Poseidons) long-range aircraft. P-8Is are often called the “hawk eyes” of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean region. The US-2i deal and the acquisition of more Poseidons will bolster India’s defence in the Indian Ocean and check China’s presence in the area.