First India delivery and looming U.S. operational clearance mark inflexion point for P-8
With the delivery of the first to India on May 15, and the recent completion of initial operational test and evaluation of the U.S. Navy's P-8A, is close to fully transitioning the maritime patrol program from development to production.
“The System Development Demonstration program is 98% done and the only lingering work has to do with fatigue testing,” says Egan Greenstein, Boeing P-8 business development director. “Everything else is focused on low-rate initial production (LRIP)-2, with eight U.S. Navy deliveries and three P-8Is for the Indian navy this year.”
Earlier in May a confluence of six P-8s transiting to and from the company's Installation and Check Out (ICO) facility at Boeing Field illustrated the increasing rate of activity as production rises to around one per month. The scene “has woken people up to the pace of what's happening here,” says Greenstein. “One per month doesn't sound too much, but it's a lot of moving parts.” With the anticipated move to full-rate production expected to be approved later this year, manufacturing is due to increase in the next two years.
Boeing is now under contract for 24 P-8As out of a stated Navy requirement for 117 aircraft, and is set to deliver the ninth later this month. This aircraft will be the third to be delivered from LRIP-2, the second production contract awarded in November 2011. A third production contract, covering 11 further aircraft, was received in September 2012. Plans are in hand for the next two production lots with 13 P-8s provisionally slated for fiscal 2014 and 16 in fiscal 2015. The ICO at Boeing Field is sized for up to 24 P-8s completions per year, including international sales and any potential future derivatives, says Greenstein. However, even with the planned increase in Navy completions and the additional Indian navy P-8Is, the overall annual throughput of the facility will be well below this level. “We see it as manageable, maybe even conservative,” he adds.
India's first delivery of an 'in-country' aircraft this month will be followed by two further aircraft in the third and fourth quarters of the year. India has eight P-8Is on firm order and Boeing is optimistic that options on a further four could be taken up later in 2013, or early 2014. The company expects to sustain the international orderbook with an initial contract for at least eight aircraft for Australia in 2014. “We anticipate a production agreement in 2014 following a second-pass review early in the first half of the year,” says Greenstein, referring to the final milestone in Australia's two-pass approval process for the acquisition of a new defense system. Overall, Boeing forecasts a requirement for “at least 60” international P-8s. “We have roughly 15 campaigns underway in various countries,” he adds.
Australia signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Navy to collaborate in the development of the more capable Increment 2 version of the P-8A in 2009, and in September 2012 signed a similar pact for Increment 3. “Boeing is doing the engineering for the phased implementation of the capability, and retrofitting the aircraft already out there,” says Greenstein. Increment 2 includes upgrading the aircraft's acoustic processor to allow the introduction of the multi-static active coherent (MAC) anti-submarine warfare (ASW) system.
The MAC will be introduced in two blocks, or engineering change proposals (ECPs). ECP1 will include an update to the interface with the TacMobile ground station that currently supports the existing P-3 Orion fleet. The first phase will introduce the MAC shallow water acoustic search capability while ECP2, covering the second phase of the MAC, will provide deep-water capability.
The second phase will also see the P-8A equipped with modified sonobuoys for high-altitude ASW warfare, as well as the high-altitude ASW weapon capability (Haawc) system. This is a Mark 54 torpedo fitted with a GPS-guided wing and tail kit that will enable the weapon to be launched from altitudes up to 30,000 ft. Boeing received a $19.2 million Navy contract to design and build the Haawc air launch kits early in April.
Increment 2—slated to enter initial operational capability (IOC)—in early fiscal 2016, will be followed by a third upgrade that will introduce a “net-ready” systems architecture for more flexible software-based enhancements and net-enabled anti-surface warfare weapons and targeting. IOC for Increment 3 is fiscal 2020. Under a $138 million effort running through fiscal 2017, Boeing is also conducting an engineering analysis of theAdvanced Aerial Sensor (AAS) long-range, high-resolution surveillance radar on the P-8A. The AAS is an electronically-scanned active array radar with a 40-ft.-long antenna housed in a pod under the forward fuselage.
The first P-8A fleet deployment is “on track” for December 2013 when aircraft from Patrol Sqdn. 16, based at NAS Jacksonville, Fla., are due to begin operating out of Kadena AFB, Okinawa.