Restarting the airborne ASW clock
Anti-submarine warfare is back in fashion as trading nations seek to protect their critical supply lines from the threat of ultra-quiet diesel submarines. When the P-8A Poseidon takes over on the front line from the P-3C Orion it will offer similar capability, but in a new airframe with a 20-year life and with an open systems architecture and operator interface that makes it easier to upgrade the aircraft and sensors to stay ahead of the threat.
"The primary reason for the P-8 is the P-3's retirement because of its significant structural issues. The navy will not make huge steps in technology from the P-3 to the P-8," says programme manager Bob Feldman. Most of the sensors are developments of systems from the P-3 and elsewhere. "There is very little from-scratch development. That was done on purpose to control the technology readiness level and risk," he says.
The acoustic signal-processor at the heart of the mission system is being developed by Boeing's Anaheim operation and will be fielded first in theP-3. "We are doing risk reduction in the P-3 on the way to the P-8," Feldman says.
Mark Jordan, director, P-8 mission systems, says: "As threats get quieter, ASW is moving from passive detection to active wide-area search." The acoustic system will handle distributed patterns of 64 passive or 32 active sonobuoys simultaneously.
The Raytheon APY-10 multimode surveillance radar is a development of the latest P-3 sensor. Northrop Grumman is supplying the retractable electro-optical/infrared sensor, electronic support measures, self-protection system and datalinks. "The primary mission is ASW, but the P-8 has the capability with its organic sensors to do a lot of overland missions," says Jordan.
Once the new platform is in service, capabilities beyond the P-3's will be introduced through spirals, or increments.
"The first spiral will put new capability into the aircraft shortly after initial operational capability, in 2015," says Feldman. Increment 1 is still being defined, but it is likely to be a hardware and software spiral including acoustic and sensor upgrades. The P-8's initial weapons suite - torpedoes and Harpoon and SLAM missiles - is also expected to be expanded.
What the navy gets when the P-8 is fielded in 2013, in addition to a new airframe at the beginning of its life, is a new operator interface. "The biggest difference from the P-3 to the P-8 is what the operator sees and the integration of information," says Feldman. "Operators will see a significant difference. This is not a maturation of the P-3."
There will be five major builds of the mission system during P-8 development. Build 2 is complete and integrated in the laboratory. Build 3 will be completed later this year. Aircraft T-2 will be delivered with Block 4 and T-3 with Build 5, which is to be ready for operational testing around 2010. "It is surprising how well the software has stayed on track," says Feldman.
The P-8's open systems architecture and operator interface will allow easier upgrades