P-8A Poseidon Pushing Its Own Envelope of Operations
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft is proving to be a worthy successor to the long-serving P-3 Orion, the Navy’s program manager said, and it future is even brighter.
Speaking to reporters April 10 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National Harbor, Maryland, Capt. Tony Rossi, the Navy’s program manager for maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft, said the “P-3 brought the Swiss Army knife capability” to maritime patrol and that the “P-8 has really picked up that banner.”
Rossi pointed out that recent events such as hurricane disaster response and rescues at sea have demonstrated the versatility of the Boeing-built P-8.
“We never designed the aircraft for search and rescue, but it is great at it,” Rossi said.
During the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean, the P-8 demonstrated that it could dash to a search area faster and remain on station longer than a P-3.
Rossi said the Increment 2 capability upgrades to the baseline P-8 have been implemented or are in progress, including the Multistatic Active Coherent (MAC) acoustic search capability, automated identification system, high-altitude sensors, and the high-altitude ASW weapon concept, the latter resident in a winged Mk54 torpedo, which is scheduled for initial operational capability (IOC) in 2020.
Installation of Increment 3 has begun, which will bring enhanced communications, targeting and antisubmarine capability; improved ASW weapons; and a scalable computer processing upgrade using Minotaur mission software that will bring open-architecture computing, like service-oriented architecture. The ASW acoustic capability will migrated to the Minotaur software. The computer will have the convenience of being able to host new applications to determine if they are effective. Increment 3 also will add the Harpoon Block II+ cruise missile, Link 16, and a signals intelligence capability. Increment 3 is scheduled to reach IOC in 2023 or 2024.
The MAC capability, which has replaced extended echo ranging, has been in service for more than two years and is “doing very well in the fleet,” Rossi said. MAC will be improved even more in Increment 3, but “we will never be done with full MAC,” Rossi said, noting that it will be improved as needed to meet the threat.
Rossi said the P-8 has done “a basic level of integration” with the MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, including voice, Link 16 and common data link. Increment 3 includes a broadband reach-back capability with the Triton’s sensor data.
Rossi said that the P-8 fleet is being upgraded to the latest configuration, a process which takes 18-24 months.
Boeing is delivering P-8s to its customers at a rate of about 18 per year. So far 98 P-8s have been put on contract, with 68 delivered so far to the U.S. Navy and six to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with the seventh due for delivery this week. The RAAF P-8 achieved IOC in March, five months earlier than planned. It is scheduled to receive five more P-8s.
The United Kingdom has five Poseidons on contract and long-lead materials on order for the other four planned. Delivery of the first is slated for 2019. Norway has approved procurement of five Poseidons, with the first scheduled for delivery in 2021. In direct commercial sales, India has received eight P-8I versions and has ordered four more for delivery in 2020-2021.
Rossi said sales to three other international customers are under discussion.
The 2018 budget added three P-8s to the program of record, bring the Navy’s program total to 120 aircraft, up from 111 a year ago. Deliveries extend into 2022.
Next month the ninth of the Navy’s 12 fleet patrol squadrons will have made the transition to the P-8A. Rossi said that there is no plan to recapitalize the Navy’s two reserve patrol squadrons with the P-8, although the subject is under discussion.
“The aircraft is doing great, but the future is really bright,” Rossi said.