Details of the mission surfaced today in a press release issued by Raytheon, which announced receiving a multi-year contract to develop an advanced new radar for the P-8A programme.
According to Raytheon, the advanced airborne sensor (AAS) will become a successor to the littoral surveillance radar system (LSRS), which is operational today on a small subset of the Lockheed P-3C fleet.
As a sensor that can track moving targets on the ground, the canoe-pod LSRS allowed some P-3Cs to shift into the overland surveillance mission, performing a role normally reserved for the USAF's E-8C fleet.
Until the Raytheon announcement, USN officials had never proposed the idea of installing an LSRS-type sensor on the P-8A fleet. Rather, the USN had maintained that the P-8A fleet would be focused on the USN's core maritime patrol mission, and especially dedicated to the anti-submarine warfare threat.
"We will be ready with intelligent technology when the Poseidon takes its place as the Navy's ISR capability in the fleet," said Capt Scott Anderson, AAS and LSRS programme manager, who was quoted in the Raytheon press release.
Neither Raytheon, Boeing nor USN officials were available to comment on the press release today.
The existence of the mechanically-scanned LSRS sensor only became known in 2006, when Boeing announced the system had been used to track moving ground targets and cue a strike by the standoff land attack missile - expanded response (SLAM-ER). Last year, Raytheon also revealed that the LSRS could track moving targets making a 90-degree turn.
The USN plans to buy 117 P-8As to partly replace the P-3C fleet. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is building another 48-68 RQ-4N broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) aircraft to complete the P-3C replacement.
Boeing formally rolled out the P-8A in a ceremony on 30 July in Renton, Washington, which occurred more than two months after the programme achieved first flight. Boeing also received a new contract on 30 July to start building three more test aircraft, joining five more already on contract.