As Boeing assembles the 100th P-8 Poseidon in Renton, Washington, the company is laying the groundwork to secure dozens of new orders by revamping the design and production process to reduce costs.
“We think we’ll build another 100 of them,” says Carl Lang, Boeing’s deputy programme manager for the 737-800A, which is modified to become the anti-submarine warfare as the P-8.
So far, Boeing has delivered eight test aircraft and 84 operational P-8As to the US Navy, plus eight P-8Is for the Indian navy and seven P-8As for the Royal Australian Air Force.
The governments of Norway and the UK also have committed to buy the aircraft. The USN’s programme of record includes funding to buy at least 111 P-8As, although the navy’s approved requirement calls for a total of 117.
Boeing expects continued demand from the international market. If Boeing delivers a total of 200 P-8s, at least 75 of the orders should come from customers outside the USA, Lang says.
The international market, however, is getting crowded. Militaries around the world still operate scores of anti-submarine warfare aircraft, including Lockheed P-3Cs, Breguet Atlantiques and Ilyushin Il-38s.
Fourteen years after Boeing started developing the P-8 Poseidon, a number of competitors have appeared on the global market. Kawasaki has delivered the four-engined P-1, a clean-sheet design loosely modeled on the airframe of the P-3C. Saab, meanwhile, is developing the Bombardier Global 6000-based Swordfish for the UAE. Airbus has previously indicated that it is considering the development of an anti-submarine warfare version of the A320neo family, as part of a broader military initiative on the narrowbody.
In Renton, Boeing’s challenge to keep the P-8 competitive is only getting harder. Boeing expects to deliver the last member of the 737NG family to an airline customer by the end of 2019, leaving the USN as the type’s only remaining customer as the Renton factory transitions to the re-engined and heavily updated 737 Max. Although the 737NG line is phasing out, Boeing has committed to supporting the P-8 programme.
The cost efficiencies gained by leveraging a production system scaled up to once deliver more than 40 737s per month will be lost, as output dwindles to only 1.5 P-8s per month.
To keep the P-8A competitive, Boeing has launched a push to improve the aircraft’s affordability. Inside the hangar in Renton where Boeing assembles P-8s, a sign reveals the existence of a staff working on creating a “future production system” for the type.
That staff is working on design and production system improvements to lower the cost of producing the P-8 in absolute terms as well as prevent potential cost growth as 737NG production is phased out, Lang says.