The potential for export of the US-2 aircraft to third countries under mutual agreement between India and Japan may open a multibillion-dollar market.
With the advent of modern technology in amphibian aircraft, it is only natural that the Indian Navy has now sought to reacquire this unique capability, to truly realise its ‘blue water’ capability. Amphibian aircraft combine the capabilities of rapid surveillance and prompt response, whether for relief or arrest or intervention, in a single platform. Such a capability is not available on any other platform. Unlike helicopters and aircraft, amphibian aircraft can land at the location and enforce both the will and the law of the nation and thus are a platform of choice for military transportation, benign and constabulary missions of navies and possibly the Coast Guard for constabulary functions. Unlike ships, amphibian aircraft can reach the location far faster than ships can thereby preventing destruction or dumping of contraband/evidence or escalation of a precipitous incident at sea. This includes the ability of even shore-based military and political authorities to undertake a first-hand evaluation of a situation at sea which may have international ramifications if left to escalate without control. No other aerial or surface platform has such capability.
However, not all amphibian aircraft are suited for modern maritime missions. For mission effectiveness the main parameters of performance evaluation would be rough sea operations, range, payload, STOL capabilities, shallow water operations and beaching ability. Of these, rough sea operations are paramount for India. According to a study only about 60 per cent of all waves are below 1.2 metres in height, but 96 per cent of all waves likely to be encountered are below 3 metres in height. Amphibian aircraft must therefore, by design, have full operational capability to undertake maritime missions in wave heights of 3 metres as a norm. The range must be adequate to conduct missions into the Malacca Strait on the eastern seaboard and into the Gulf of Aden on the western seaboard including an ability to reach the island nations in the region should the need arise. For disaster relief operations the amphibian must have a capacity for onboard first aid, a sick bay for at least 10 patients and commensurate rescue gear. STOL features and shallow water operations must permit landing in busy waterways, possible riverine/high-altitude lake operations as well as in open oceans.
The US-2 meets and in many cases exceeds these operational requirements. With an ability to operate in sea state 5, landing take-off distances at about 300 m, transit speeds in excess of 550 kmph and a range of 4,500 km there is no other aircraft in its class. Combined with the world’s only Boundary Layer Control (BLC) system on a cargo and transport aircraft, spray suppression features, marinised AE 2100 engines, glass cockpits, pressurised cabins and highly sophisticated surveillance and communication suite the US-2 stands out as a product of renowned Japanese technology. The US-2 has proven credentials of successful operations in open sea condition up to sea state 5 with wave height of 4 metres and a wind velocity of about 40 kts at a distance of about 1,200 km from mainland Japan.
The US-2 can therefore be tasked for multifarious missions such as:
Of particular relevance to the Indian Navy, and in fact all navies that operate long-range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMR) such as the P-8I of the Indian Navy and AWACS aircraft of the IAF, or deck-based MiG-29K, or shore-based maritime interdiction aircraft such as the MiG-29 or Su-30 or the Jaguar, is in the choice of the most suitable aircraft that can conduct a near all-weather high speed rescue operation for the entire crew of a ditched aircraft. The aircraft is more easily replaceable than its highly trained aircrew. The rescue of a crew is faster and surer with amphibian aircraft than using ships or even helicopters. Such an assurance of recovery at sea builds huge confidence and markedly improves operational performance of the aircrew—capability that does not exist as of now. The same could also be true in case of submarines and ships in distress or damaged at sea. In the latest accidents involving IN Dornier and ICG Dornier, a credible SAR platform like US-2 may well have saved some crucial lives of crew. An aircraft like US-2 has the ability to fly low and fly slow with excellent endurance and unique capability to land on water. These capabilities along with a modern surveillance-cum-weather radar and various sensor suit make US-2 an ideal longrange SAR platform. A capability gap that clearly exists in the Indian armed forces aviation inventory as of now.
A partnership with Japan for the production of the US-2 is not without significance to neighbouring countries who have formed production agreements with third countries inimical to Indian interests. These objectives are achieved by the induction of the US-2 aircraft. In the future once the Japanese policies on arms export controls are further liberalised India will have first mover advantage and possibly many other defence goods such as the trainer aircraft, reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters may also begin to be sourced from Japan and built in India.
The US-2 will also be permitted to be exported to third countries under mutual agreement. It is evident that the collaboration on the US-2 between India and Japan is at the international level of immense diplomatic and strategic import, whilst at the domestic level the downstream benefits are across the military, technological, economic and social sectors.
From a technology perspective the final assembly, integration and delivery of the aircraft from a manufacturing facility in India will leapfrog India to amongst the few nations in the world with the ability to build sophisticated amphibian aircraft. This is the first time ever that any country has offered to develop an aeronautics industry in the private sector in India through a well targeted partnership and therefore the US-2 collaboration programme is completely aligned with Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ for the world initiative.
The operational, technological, economic and social benefits of this Japan-India collaboration on the US-2 is indeed a force multiplier for India and its armed forces.