Though Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft remains years away from reaching full operational capability, it is already proving its mettle on deployments with the US Navy, according to programme officials.
Capt Scott Dillon, the service's programme manager for marine patrol and reconnaissance, speaking at a Farnborough briefing, said the fleet of 14 P-8As are performing “exceptionally on deployment” and matching the capability of the service's to-be-retired Lockheed P-3 Orions.
Concern about the P-8A’s ability to operate at low altitude over the ocean has proved unfounded, Dillon says, noting that head-up displays provide improved situational awareness for pilots.
Despite positive feedback, the programme has not been without hiccups or criticism. Though officials note the programme still calls for Boeing to build 117 aircraft, the USN’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal limits the service to ordering eight aircraft, not 16, next year.
Export deals are also being pursued, however. So far, India has ordered eight P-8Is and Australia has approved orders for eight aircraft with a further four options.
Fred Smith, business development director at Boeing, says more countries are being courted. “We are looking forward to garnering many international orders in the near future,” he says.
Initial aircraft have small-area ASW systems similar to those carried by older P-3s, but lack broad-area acoustic search systems carried by new examples, according to a US Department of Defense report. As a result, the report says, the P-8A’s initial “ASW search capabilities provide only a small fraction of what is needed.”
Officials point out that the P-8A roadmap calls for “incrementally” improving the platform.
By fiscal year 2016, aircraft will receive automated identification systems, high-altitude ASW weapons capabilities and multi-static active coherent acoustics, which will provide limited broad-area search ability. Further ASW upgrades and sensor and software improvements are planned for fiscal year 2021, says the navy.