P-8A Passes Initial Operational Testing Milestone

 - July 12, 2013, 9:40 AM
Airmen assigned to Patrol Squadron 16 direct a P-8A Poseidon on the flight line at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Navy declared the P-8A Poseidon ready to join the fleet following completion of the aircraft’s initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase. The Navy issued its IOT&E report on July 1, according to the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). The service conducted testing from last September to March.

Having completed IOT&E, the P-8A remains “on track” for initial operational deployment by the Navy later this year, Navair said. Plans call for sending Patrol Squadron 16 (VP-16), based in Jacksonville, Fla., with six Poseidons to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, in December.

The Poseidon, a Boeing 737-800 military derivative, will replace the Navy’s long-serving Lockheed P-3C turboprop to provide long-range anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). The P-8A that enters service will be a baseline “Increment 1” capability aircraft. New capabilities will be added as engineering change proposals in second and third increments. Increment 2 will introduce an automatic identification system transponder and receiver, Multi-static Active Coherent (MAC) wide-area acoustic search system and high-altitude ASW weapons capability between 2014 and 2016. The Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has said that the Navy’s decision to waive wide-area acoustic search requirements for IOT&E and defer integration of the MAC system “will limit ASW mission effectiveness in the near term.”

The P-8A program achieved another milestone on June 24 when a test aircraft successfully launched a Harpoon AGM-84D Block IC anti-ship missile at the Navy’s sea test range at Point Mugu, California, striking a floating target. The Poseidon can be armed with four Harpoon missiles on wing hard points, and an internal weapons bay accommodates five Mk 54 torpedoes.

The aircraft’s wing or weapons bay could also be used to air launch a small unmanned aircraft. A Boeing schematic of weapons stores shown to reporters in May depicted a ScanEagle UAV on a wing pylon. The company has developed a “compressed carriage” special mission variant of the ScanEagle that has folding wings and is loaded in a container.

The Navy has awarded Boeing three low-rate initial production (LRIP) contracts for 24 P-8As. Navair reported that nine LRIP and six test aircraft have been delivered to date. Boeing anticipates the Navy will award a full-rate production contract for the Poseidon this year. The Navy’s P-8A program of record calls for 117 aircraft. Boeing has also started delivering the first of eight P-8Is ordered by the Indian navy, the first international buyer.