The Boeing P-8A programme has received approval to begin ramping up production shortly before the anti-submarine warfare aircraft enters the last two years of development and flight test.

The Defense Acquisition Board, which oversees all major acquisitions, verbally approved the P-8A to enter the first year of low rate initial production (LRIP), according to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), which expects an official written memo within three to four weeks to clarify how many aircraft will be built during the LRIP phase.

Clearing the LRIP approval hurdle marks the third of four major milestones for any US military acquisition. The next step for the P-8A will be entering full-rate production.

NAVAIR plans to buy 117 P-8A Poseidons up to fiscal year 2018 as half of the plan to replace about 225 Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions. The navy also aims to buy the Northrop Grumman RQ-4N broad area maritime surveillanceUAV, an unmanned system that will serve as an adjunct to the P-8A.

The P-8A is a military version of Boeing's 737-800 airliner. Changes include the wings from the -900ER model and the addition of a weapons bay as well as sensors and launchers for sonobuoys.

Boeing has delivered the first two flight-test prototypes for the P-8A programme to NAS Patuxent River in Maryland. The third flight-test aircraft will arrive "shortly". Meanwhile, the fourth flight-test aircraft is "moving through the factory" in Renton, Washington, Boeing says.

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Source: Flight International