Thursday, January 27, 2011

US Navy authorises low rate production of P-8A Poseidon

The US Navy has awarded a US$1.6 billion contract to Boeing for low rate production of the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. 
The US Naval Air Systems Command made the announcement on Monday, paving way for low rate initial production at Boeing’s Renton, Washington, facility towards the middle of the year. The $1.6 billion contract also includes spares, logistics and training devices. 

"In 2004, the US Navy and the Boeing Company made a commitment to deliver the next generation maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to support a 2013 Initial Operational Capability (IOC)," said Captain Mike Moran, PMA 290 Programme Manager. "This contract and these aircraft keep that commitment on track." 

The P-8A first flew on April 25, 2009. Three of the six flight test aircraft, built as part of the System Development and Demonstration contract awarded to Boeing in 2004, are in various stages of testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. The Integrated Test Team has conducted sonobuoy releases and counter measures deployments. 

Recently, one of two static test planes completed full scale testing on the P-8A airframe. The first static test aircraft underwent 154 different tests with no failure of the primary structure. The second aircraft will begin fatigue testing this year. 

The US Navy plans to purchase 117 production P-8A aircraft to replace its ageing Lockheed P-3 Orion Fleet. IOC is planned for 2013 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.

The P-8A emerged from the cancelled P-7 Long Range Air Anti-Submarine Warfare Capable Aircraft programme that was begun in 1988, which envisioned an improved P-3. However, cost overruns, slow progress and interest in opening the competition to commercial designs led to the P-7’s cancellation in 1990. It was succeeded by the Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) programme, which was begun in March 2000. In May 2004 Boeing beat Lockheed’s Orion 21 proposal (a new build version of the P-3) with its modified 737-800 passenger jet. BAE Systems also briefly entered the competition with its Nimrod MRA4, but dropped out in 2002 after failing to find a US partner.

The P-8A is based on the stretched 737-800 with 737-900-based wings. It also includes six additional fuel tanks for extended range. The aircraft’s main role will be anti-submarine warfare and shipping interdiction, as well as electronic intelligence (ELINT). As a result, it will carry torpedoes, depth charges, AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and other weapons, as well as sonobuoys. 

Boeing expects to sell around 200 P-8As to foreign countries and has so far received one firm order, from India. In January 2009 the Indian Ministry of Defence signed an agreement with Boeing for eight P-8Is at a cost of SU$2.1 billion to replace the Indian Navy’s Tupolev Tu-142M maritime surveillance aircraft. In October 2010 India ordered another four aircraft. Indian P-8s will feature a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), which was deleted off the American aircraft to save weight.

Other countries that have shown interest include Australia, which wants to acquire P-8As in 2016, and New Zealand, which may buy four aircraft.
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