New Delhi: Indian Navy and the Coast Guard have the task of patrolling 2.1 sq km of maritime territory besides a 7,519 km shoreline against emerging threats. A key area is moving troops rapidly, carrying out a mid-sea rescue or keeping a vigil in inaccessible island territories. The Japanese US-2i, an amphibious plane is one of the targets for acquisition to meet operational needs.
India is buying 12 of these, six each for its Coast Guard and the Navy. Tokyo has sweetened the deal by lowering the price by more than 15 per cent over its original demand. Japan has offered a price concession bringing the price down from $133 million per aircraft to around $113 million. Shortly after coming to power in May-2014 and during his first overseas visit to Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a desire to buy US-2 amphibious aircraft, made by ShinMaywa of Japan. The deal is being discussed since 2013
For Japan this will be benchmark, after seven decades it’s going to make a sale of military equipment to a foreign country. Reeling under the impact of the World War II (1939-1945) Japan adopted a pacifist constitution. In the past couple of years, it has made amendments to Article 9 of its Constitution, dubbed the “peace clause”.
The plane will aid in carrying out operational logistics support for the Indian naval warships and submarines at sea. Not having an amphibious plane for country like India that operates some 130 warships is an operational gap in the inventory. An amphibious plane like the US-2i is an asset to react to a developing situation in the island territories like Andaman Nicobar islands which are strategically vulnerable and also vital.
The purchase from Japan is regarded as strategic as New Delhi is building ties with Tokyo as part of its ‘Act East Policy’ meant to counter China's influence in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions. Japan and India already have signed a strategic partnership alliance.
What is the US2-i: Powered by four big turbo-prop engines, the US-2i made by ShinMaywa, is capable of short take-offs from land as well as water. Its meant for search and rescue operations, but the US-2i can also rapidly transport 30 combat-ready soldiers to "hot zones" in an emergency or carry 12 stretchers. It was first inducted in Japanese self defence forces in 2009 and since then several countries have shown interest.
The plane incorporates a flexible airframe design allowing it to be converted into a fire-fighting amphibian, passenger transport aircraft, or a multi-purpose amphibian. It has short take-off and landing (STOL) – both on water and land. Maximum take-off distance required on land is 490metres. The US-2i allows operation in rough seas with wave height of 3metres. It can fly upto an altitude of 6,000 metres. On land the aircraft lands with a proper landing gear. In water its boat underbelly is makes a smooth landing.
The US-2i is powered by four Rolls-Royce AE 2100J turboprop engines. It has a length of 33.3m, wing span of 33.2m, and a height of 9.8m. The empty weight of the aircraft is 25,630kg.
The China angle: Beijing, in July 2016, announced that it will build the world's largest amphibious plane, the AG600 to match the Us-2i. Once India gets it from Japan it could be interesting to watch. The intended utilization of the AG600 by China is almost similar to the perceived roles in India. Presence of Indian US-2i in the Indian Ocean region and AG600 of China in the South China Sea may be interesting to watch.