The Indian Navy is set to retire its Tupolev Tu-142 long range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft by the end of this month. Eight of these gigantic turboprop aircraft were acquired by the Indian Navy in 1988 from the Soviet Union and served as the flagship maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare platform in the Indian Ocean region for nearly 30 years. The Tu-142s are based at INS Rajali, situated at Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu.
The Tu-142 was derived from the Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” long range strategic bomber designed in the 1950s. It is a large turboprop aircraft powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12 engines with distinctive contra-rotating propellers. It is one of the loudest military aircraft and is also the fastest turboprop aircraft with a maximum speed in excess of 850kmph/460knots. Its long fuselage, wide wingspan and high speed has earned it the nickname, “Albatross”.
The Tu-142 is a true long range reconnaissance aircraft with a combat radius of around 6500km. It can carry out long duration missions of nearly 11 hours with a large payload of around 9000kg. The aircraft is fitted with ASW equipment including sonar, magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), sonobuoys, anti-submarine mines and torpedoes.
However, age has begun to catch up with the Albatross, as newer anti-submarine warfare technologies have emerged in the recent years, thereby rendering the Cold War era Soviet equipment on the aircraft obsolete. The Indian Navy has already found its eventual replacement – the Boeing P-8I “Neptune” multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA). Eight P-8Is have already been inducted into the service, and are also based at INS Rajali.
Although the P-8I doesn’t quite have the range or the endurance of the Tu-142, it is packed to the gills with state-of-the-art surveillance & ASW equipment, including the deadly Harpoon anti-ship missile.
In addition to the Tu-142 & the P-8I, the Indian Navy also operates the Ilyushin IL-38SD maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The IL-38s were acquired by the Indian Navy starting in 1977, and were recently upgraded in Russia including fitting of a new radar and the Sea Dragon avionic suite, allowing them to soldier on for some more time. These are currently based at INS Hansa situated at Dabolim, Goa.
Newer technologies apart, none of these aircraft have the Cold War style awe and aura of the Tu-142. The retirement of the Albatross is truly the end of an era!