Five years before the US Navy P-8A enters service, the US Navy already has approved a roughly $150 million package of upgrades for the anti-submarine patrol fleet.

Boeing received a contract earlier this month to launch studies supporting the P-8A's spiral 1 upgrade that should enter service in 2015, or two years after the first squadron becomes operational.

Ironically, the spiral 1 upgrade is intended to bring the P-8A mission system up to the same standard of the ageing Lockheed P-3C Orion that it will be replacing.

The P-8A needs to "catch up" to the P-3C by 2013 because its systems were frozen in 2004, while the P-3C fleet is continuing to be upgraded, says Neal Rothback, the USN P-8A programme's deputy integrated product team leader. The P-8A and the P-3C share a common maritime surveillance radar.

More upgrades to add capability are also still being considered, but are not yet part of the approved spiral 1 package.

For example, the USN is provisioning the P-8A to carry the Raytheon littoral surveillance radar system (LSRS), Rothback says, although funding to integrate the underbelly-mounted sensor has not been approved.

The LSRS has recently been fielded with a small group of P-3Cs. It allows the Orions to perform a function comparable to the Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS airborne ground surveillance system, adding a weapons-targeting function and a maritime search mode.

In addition, the USN also is considering adding funds to develop a high-altitude operating capability, which would include a new air-launched torpedo, datalinks and high-altitude dropsondes, Rothback says.

Lockheed Martin officials have said the USN plans to launch the high-altitude weapons concept within a month.

Rothback confirms that the USN has started to develop the required technologies, but has not yet approved adding funds to integrate the high-altitude capability for the P-8A.

The spiral 1 package would be followed by a second batch of upgrades in 2017, or two years later.

"We're looking for every two to three years to add new capability," he says.

Source: Flight International