With the recent handover flights from the commercial factory to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) in Seattle, the P-8A Poseidon next-generation maritime patroller for the U.S. Navy remains “firmly on track,” according to Tony Parasida, vice president and general manager of Boeing IDS’s ASW & ISR Systems division. “The fact that we are on track is a great credit not only to Boeing, but also to the Navy and the way they are running this program,” he added.
Currently the P-8 is in the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase, for which Boeing is building five airframes. After completing load-calibration testing two weeks ahead of time, the first flying aircraft (T1) left the commercial 737 production line at Renton on April 25 for a delivery flight to the P-8 facility at Boeing Field. After installation of more systems, T1 will return to the air in August to begin airworthiness tests. This formal “first flight” marks the start of the dedicated P-8 air-test process.
T2 followed T1 into the air on June 5, including a low flyby at the Navy’s Whidbey Island base during its first flight. Both first flights were exceptionally “clean” and followed a similar format to a commercial aircraft acceptance test flight. T2 is now in the process of having mission equipment installed, and will return to the air in 2010 to begin system trials.
Final assembly of the third SDD “flyer,” T3, began last month and that aircraft is scheduled to fly later next year. It will also have a mission system installed, and its main role will be weapons separation trials.
As well as the flying aircraft, there are two static test airframes. S1 began static tests last month and will support envelope expansion before flight testing. S2 will be completed at the factory by year-end, allowing it to start a double-lifetime fatigue testing campaign.
Beyond the SDD machines, Boeing is to build three (T4, T5 and T6) production-representative aircraft for IOT&E work. The SDD phase ends in 2011, and Boeing expects a low-rate initial production contract next year, in line with the U.S. Navy’s plans to achieve initial operating capability in 2013.
If budgets permit, the Navy wants 117 P-8s, and Boeing hopes to hit its peak production rate of 13 per year around 2014. Parasida noted, “It’s nice being part of a big commercial production program.” In 2015 an Increment 2 aircraft is due to enter fleet service with many improvements, including widebeam satcoms, to be followed by an Increment 3 standard in 2018.
Boeing envisions a market for around 100 aircraft. India became the first export customer with an order placed in January for eight, while Australia has an MoU with the U.S. Navy to collaborate on Increment 2.
Raytheon Radar Ready for Poseidon
Raytheon is providing the APY-10 radar at the heart of the P-8A’s surveillance suite. The company has already delivered to Boeing the four radars required for the SDD phase, and is building another five for the initial operational test and evaluation phase. The first aircraft equipped with the radar (T2) is due to fly with it next year.
In a world of AESA radars, APY-10 retains a mechanically scanned antenna. The key driver behind this decision was to keep development risks as low as possible as the Navy seeks to replace the P-3 Orion with some urgency. The capabilities of the Orion’s APS-137 are retained, with some new ones added. Technology development has also allowed Raytheon to improve reliability and reduce mean time between failures by a factor of six.
An “m-scan” radar can also offer enormous benefits in the antisubmarine role, which principally manifest themselves when it comes to surface search for small targets, such as submarine periscopes. “We can get a lot of power down on the ocean surface, right out to 20 nautical miles or more across a wide sector,” explained Brad Hopper, senior business development manager for Raytheon’s ISRS business.
“There’s no AESA of a similar size out there that can do that.”
The APY-10’s antenna can scan at 300 rpm. “Periscopes are fleeting targets,” explained Hopper, “but the APY-10 is visiting the area five times per second. The processing can remove all the clutter caused by rough sea states, and out pops the target.”