Boeing has expanded on its proposal to replace the U.S. Air Force E-8 Joint STARS air-ground surveillance aircraft (AGS) with a version of the P-8 Poseidon. The Air Force is planning to re-engine and upgrade the E-8 fleet.
Northrop Grumman, the current E-8 prime contractor, would probably do the work. But Boeing argues that it would be cheaper to buy a P-8 AGS that offers improved capability and much lower operating costs.
At the Dubai Air Show earlier this week, Egan Greenstein, Boeing’s senior manager of business development, said that a P-8 AGS could also exploit the weapons-carrying capability of the Naval P-8 so that “the sensor and the shooter could be on the same platform.” A P-8A released its first weapon, a Mk54 torpedo, last month.
An alternative external load could be air-dropped UAVs that would be controlled by the P-8 “mothership.” Under the U.S. Navy contract, the P-8A already has Level 2 control capabilities for UAVs such as the BAMS maritime surveillance vehicle, and the Australian 737AEW&C has demonstrated UAV control by satellite link. Carrying UAVs that could be launched when needed could be the next step.
As well as the P-8 AGS, Boeing is also proposing versions of the P-8 for other U.S. special-mission versions. Aircraft such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint, OC-135 Open Skies platform and WC-135 environmental monitoring platform will all need to be replaced.