Headlines Both Good and Bad Mark First Year of Navy’s P-8 Sub-Hunting Aircraft
There has been plenty of good news for the Navy’s new submarine hunting aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon, company and service officials said April 8.
One of the first eight P-8 Poseidon aircraft was recently dispatched to help search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Two countries — Australia and India — are purchasing the aircraft, and a second U.S Navy squadron will be fielded later this year.
“2013 has been a significant, banner year for the program,” Martin Ahmad, the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon deputy program manager, said during a briefing at the Navy League's Sea, Air, Space conference.
This year began with bad press when a report by the office of operational testing criticized the program for having deficiencies in conducting wide-area searches for submarines, and for being vulnerable to cyber intrusions. The P-8A “is not effective for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission and is not effective for wide area anti-submarine search,” the report said.
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall pushed back against the criticism. “The things we did put in are working as expected. They are doing what we wanted them to do. … We are going to move on to a wider area of surveillance capabilities within a few years,” Kendall said. This will occur when additional sensors and computer processing are added to the aircraft, he said at a congressional hearing.
The word “deficiencies” was being taken out of context, he suggested. “It just means it can’t do certain things. It doesn’t mean it is a bad design — that there are problems with the airplane. It is a very good product.”
The Navy put eight Poseidons on its unfunded requirements list. Current needs call for a total of 117 aircraft, but only 109 are in the budget for this and outlying years.
Along with 13 aircraft already delivered, The Boeing Co. is under contract to deliver 40 more. The P-8 uses the company’s 737 commercial jetliner airframe.
Ahmad said there would be no impact on the transition from the legacy P-3 aircraft to the P-8 if no money is found for the final eight. “These aircraft, if we have those aircraft, they would be later in the production buy, toward the end of the” future years defense program.
Rick Heerdt, Boeing vice president, said it isn’t yet known if a 109-aircraft production run will ultimately drive up the per-unit cost.
“That is probably likely. How much? We don’t know yet,” he said. The fact that the airframe comes from a commercial production line may mitigate the risk of costs going up. And there are international sales to consider.
“We obviously are trying to bring in more international sales to kind of level out … the production line,” he said. “We are seeing a fair amount of interest in the international market,” he added.
India, which has already taken possession of three aircraft, was the first customer. It is under contract for five more, and has an option for an additional four, Heerdt said. He expected India to exercise the option.
The Australian navy, a development partner in the program, received approval in January to purchase eight aircraft, with an option for four more. Initial deliveries may come as early as 2016, Heerdt said.
He wouldn’t name the other countries that are looking at the aircraft. “They see it operating …. that generates interest on its own,” he said, referring to the aircraft dispatched to look for the missing Malaysian airliner, and other deployments. Six are currently fielded in Japan.
Ahmad said the first increment of the Poseidon is providing “a very effective enhancement to the war fighter immediately.” The jet can dispatch 120 sonic buoys from higher altitudes. It features five workstations that are networked together.
Increment two capabilities, which will start to be integrated into the aircraft in 2016, will have multi static active coherent acoustics, which will greatly expand by several orders of magnitude the search areas and provide the wide area surveillance mentioned in the report.
Most importantly, Ahmad said, it will be able to perform its mission at higher altitudes. It will have new Mark 54 torpedoes that can parachute down and, in coordination with the new buoys, sink submarines.
“It is certainly very capable of performing ASW missions all the way though the kill chain,” Ahmad said.
Increment three, which is in the early stages of development and scheduled to be fielded in 2021, will have an information technology architecture much like a smartphone. It will also deploy a networked enabled anti-submarine warfare weapon capable of being controlled by a third party after it has been deployed.