The U.S. Navy’s next-generation maritime patrol jet, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, is months away from starting its first operational deployment, which will hasten the retirement of the venerable P-3C Orion turboprop.
Boeing (Chalets A324, B321) has ramped up production of the Poseidon as it nears full-rate production and initial operational capability (IOC) decisions from the U.S. Navy this year. The company produced seven P-8s in 2012; this year it plans to deliver 11 jets, including three to the Indian navy.
The Boeing 737-800 military derivative completed initial operational test and evaluation by the Navy at Patuxent River, Maryland, in March. Low-rate initial production (LRIP) P-8As started arriving at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, in Florida, in March 2012. There, the Navy is training the first operational squadrons. The service plans to deploy Patrol Squadron 16 (VP-16)–the “War Eagles,” with six Poseidons–to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan in December, bringing new capability to the Pacific theater. In order, the VP-5 “Mad Foxes” and VP-45 “Pelicans” will be the next squadrons to operate the P-8A.
“We’re transitioning to operational capability,” said Rick Heerdt, Boeing P-8 program manager. “Transitioning to operational capability is more than delivering airplanes, it’s delivering the entire capability that surrounds [them]. It includes training, logistics support, ground support equipment and the technical support that goes with deploying an operational capability.”
The P-8 will replace the Lockheed P-3C four-engine turboprop, first delivered to the Navy in 1969, to provide long-range anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The Navy’s program of record for the P-8 specifies 117 aircraft, in addition to six test aircraft. In December 2011, the Pentagon estimated the average procurement unit cost of the P-8 would be $198.6 million.
Poseidons will work in tandem with the new Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned Global Hawk derivative. The latter aircraft is also progressing; the Triton logged its first flight on May 22 from Palmdale, California.
The Navy awarded Boeing three LRIP contracts for the P-8A in 2011 and 2012 for a total value of $5.2 billion. The manufacturer was completing the second of the three LRIP lots that combined number 24 P-8As; it reported delivering nine jets as of May. Boeing also delivered the first of eight P-8Is ordered by India, the first international buyer of the Poseidon. That aircraft arrived at India Naval Station Rajali on May 15. The schedule calls for delivering two more P-8Is this year, with the balance of five aircraft in 2014. The contract with India includes an option for four additional aircraft.
Australia, a second potential international customer, has expressed a requirement for eight of the jets and since 2009 has collaborated on a second-increment enhancement of the Poseidon, which is currently a baseline Increment 1 capability aircraft. Egan Greenstein, Boeing P-8 business development director, said he was involved in 15 “campaigns” with other potential customers for up to 60 aircraft.
Last month, Greenstein led a walk-around of an LRIP 2 jet that was cycling through the company’s mission systems installation and checkout facility at Boeing Field. P-8 fuselages produced by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, are shipped by rail to Boeing’s 737 manufacturing facility in Renton, Washington. The airframes are assembled with reinforced 737-900 wings as part of an “in-line” provisioning process that incorporates structural features unique to the P-8 during fabrication and assembly. Boeing estimates that 80 percent of P-8 and commercial 737 structures are common. The aircraft are then painted and flown to nearby Boeing Field, where mission systems are installed.
A standard Poseidon crew consists of nine people: two pilots and a relief pilot, five mission system operators and one crewman for loading sonobuoys for launch. The five mission operator consoles line the port side of the cabin. The length of the fuselage is windowless except for two large observer windows, one on either side of the forward cabin. The aircraft is powered by twin CFM 56-7B engines and armed with four AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles on wing hard points. In its belly is an internal weapons bay that accommodates five Raytheon MK 54 torpedoes or other armament.
The Poseidon employs an integrated sonobuoy launch and acoustic signal processing system to detect, identify and track submarines. There are two sonobuoy storage racks on each side of the fuselage in the aft section of the aircraft resembling wine racks. Each rack holds 48 sonobuoys for 96 total, and there is storage capacity available for about 25 more–in total, 50 percent more capacity than on the P-3C. The 30-pound sonobuoys are hand-loaded into adjacent rotary launchers from ITT Exelis; these use compressed air to eject sonobuoys from the bottom of the aircraft. “They’re designed so that they can very rapidly deploy buoys under computer control,” Greenstein said of the launchers. “The mission commander designs a tactic [and] sends the tactic to the autopilot. The pilots accept it, and the airplane flies the pattern and deploys the buoys automatically.”
Another major P-8 sensor system is the Raytheon AN/APY-10 multi-mode maritime surveillance radar, installed in an enlarged nose fairing on the aircraft. Among other systems, Northrop Grumman provides the aircraft’s AN/ALQ-240(V)1 electronic support measures (ESM) system to detect and identify electronic threats; early warning self-protection system and embedded global GPS/inertial navigation system. The aircraft is fitted with an L-3 Wescam MX-20HD electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret. GE Aviation supplies the flight management and stores management systems, and BAE Systems provides the mission computer system.
New capabilities are being added as engineering change proposals to the P-8 baseline program. 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 weapon capability between 2014 and 2016. Increment 3 is planned to field in FY2020, and includes communications upgrades, a “net-enabled anti-surface warfare weapon” and a guidance update to the high-altitude ASW weapons capability, according to the Navy.
Boeing has been evaluating platforms for a smaller maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) based on the P-8 system architecture. Tim Peters, Boeing general manager of mobility, surveillance and engagement, said the MSA would have a maritime surveillance radar different from that of the P-8, and be offered for “somewhere about a third of what a P-8 would cost.”
P-8A SIMULATOR TRAINING
In April 2012, Boeing started operating what it calls the International Multi-Intelligence Operational Lab Environment (I-MOLE) in Kent, Washington, to serve as a high-fidelity simulation laboratory for developing new capabilities and as an aircraft simulator for crew familiarization training. The 7,200-sq-ft facility contains a 737 flight deck with P-8 representative displays, a back end with five mission system operator consoles running mission-system software, and ISR “prototyping lines” to plug in sensors and develop system functions. The company has a contract with India to train Indian P-8I crews there through the end of this year. The first cadre of pilots, maintainers and mission system operators completed the training and returned to India.
U.S. Navy P-8A crews run through a separate, restricted lab environment, which Boeing established five years ago. The Navy maintains a P-8 systems integration laboratory at NAS Patuxent River for systems test and evaluation, and an integrated training center at NAS Jacksonville for crew training.