For many nations, the ability to perform effective maritime surveillance from the air is an essential requirement, and one that is likely to become even more critical where territorial disputes risk flaring up, such as in parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
As the newest kid on the block, Boeing’s 737-800A-based P-8 Poseidon is today’s gold-standard product, with the US Navy relying on the type, along with export buyers Australia and India, who will soon be followed by European customers Norway and the UK.
Optimised for the anti-submarine warfare role, the P-8 is a potent symbol of defensive might and benefits significantly from being a derivative of one of the world’s two dominant narrowbody airliner families, orders for which are at record levels.
But as its 100th production example advances through a completion hangar near the fast-moving commercial final assembly lines in Renton, Washington, Boeing finds itself with an increasingly nagging headache. With its Max-family twinjets now flying off the line, how can it maintain efficiency on the Poseidon programme as the number of NG-series aircraft slows to a trickle, before ending entirely for airlines in late 2019, leaving just 1.5 P-8As heading for completion per month?
The company is now wrestling with this issue, having tasked staff with finding design and production system improvements on the Poseidon. But it remains bullish about future sales prospects with the product, which should at least double its current deliveries.
With next to no viable competition in the large maritime patrol aircraft sector, the company has every reason to be positive. BAE Systems’ Nimrod MRA4 was scrapped long ago, Japan’s striking – and highly capable – Kawasaki P-1 is not available to export buyers, and Saab has yet to find a taker for its business jet-based Swordfish system. And while Airbus has the skills and capabilities required to develop a rival based on the re-engined A320neo family, it has no current programme to do so, as the current fleets of its most likely customers – France, Germany and Spain – are due to fly on for many more years.
With more than a dozen nations continuing to use combined fleets of more than 250 aged Lockheed Martin P-3 Orions, Boeing’s P-8 should have a very bright future on the international market: just so long as the company can manage to keep its costs under control as the NG era ramps down.