Those who have seen it take off - with each of its four giant turboprops whirling into action will remember the sheer thrill of the sight - as the engines gather spin and the noise of those propellers raise the machine into air. 

 

The TU142 is the world’s largest and fastest turbo prop aircraft.  Its main purpose is to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. It is also very useful in maritime reconnaissance and low-range patrol duties.  The TU-142 has been with the Indian Navy's 312nd squadron (INAS 312) since 1988. The aircraft is fifty feet from nose to tail and has a wingspan also of fifty feet. Make no mistake, this is a big bird. The aircraft has a crew of 11 including sensor operators and weapon station experts. 

 

It is armed with Kh-35 anti-ship missile, self-guided weapons; twin AM-23 automatic cannon, depth charges and torpedoes.

 

Four NK-12M turboprop engines power the TU 142 and each engine develops a power output of 15,000 shaft horse power.

 

The operational speed of the aircraft is 440mph, while the maximum speed is 575mph at high altitudes. The operating range of 3,900 mi and the maximum range is 7,953.55mi. The service ceiling of the aircraft is 40,000ft, which is very high for a turboprop aircraft. 

Finding the underwater Ghost

 

One of the toughest jobs in the military world is to track an enemy submarine. The proverbial needle in the haystack is nothing when compared to silent submarines prowling the vastness of the open ocean. This becomes even more difficult given that India has a vast coastline and several naval assets are always at sea. 

 

It is here that the TU 142 excelled. 

 

It along with the Mig - 25 was among the great aviation master pieces built by the Soviet Union and offered only to close allies like India. The aircraft had a upgrade in 2006 which ended in 2010.

 

The aircraft took a major part in the Indian unofficial blockade of Karachi during the Kargil war as well as extensively served the Navy in detecting underwater threats including Chinese and Pakistan submarine in its long inning in the Indian navy. In 2011 Indian navy operated this aircraft to track the operation that saved a Chinese merchant ship from Somali Pirates in the Arabian Sea. The TU142 also saw action during Operation Cactus in Maldives and participated in operational missions off Sri Lanka to provide airborne surveillance. In almost all missions that required an action from the Indian navy the TU-142 was the workhorse that kept submarine and surface threats at bay through its excellent surveillance capabilities. 

 

Old gives way to the new

India is replacing the TU142 with US made Boeing P8I surveillance aircraft. These are the best in the world and are operated by the US Navy and the Australasian navy. The aircraft are known for their endurance and state of the art anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. Four Harpoon (anti-ship) missiles can also be attached externally to the wings of the aircraft. The P8I can carry 120 sonobouys, as well as depth charges and 6 torpedoes internally. The Indian order for the 8 aircraft cost a staggering $2.1billion.

 

It can be said that after biding farewell to the Virat aircraft carrier earlier in the year and now saying bye bye to the TU-142 nick named the “Albatross” an era has ended for the Indian Navy. The giant turbo prop will be missed. It’s replacement the very capable though very much more expensive P8I will ensure that the TU142’s legacy of hunting submarines continues in a new technological era.

 

(The author is a Delhi-based security analyst for defence, foreign policy stories.He was also a visiting fellow at the Institute of Chinese studies, Delhi)