Production has started on the Indian navy's first P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, with Boeing subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems having cut a bonded aluminium panel to be installed on the fuselage's upper lobe to support an antenna.
The P-8I is derived from the Boeing 737 airliner. Spirit designs and produces all 737 fuselages, nacelles and pylons.
"Today marks the P-8I programme's move from the design phase to the build phase," says P-8I programme manager Leland Wight. "We're on schedule and the Indian navy is looking forward to receiving its first plane."
In mid-2011 Spirit will ship the fuselage from its Wichita factory to the Boeing Commercial Airplanes facility in Renton, Washington, where the aircraft will undergo final assembly. After this, Boeing plans to install mission systems, test them, and then deliver the aircraft to India before January 2013.
The P-8I is a variant of the US Navy's P-8A, which is undergoing testing. In January 2009 India ordered eight of the aircraft in a $2.1 billion deal, making it the type's first overseas customer. Uniquely, India's P-8Is will include an aft-mounted radar to provide 360° coverage and an air-to-air tracking mode.
India's P-8Is will replace its Tupolev Tu-142 turboprops. Observers say the nation needs to augment its maritime patrol capabilities due to growing tensions with neighbours such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the growing influence of China in the Indian Ocean, and the rise of piracy in the Arabian Sea.