Production of the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft is at almost one per month, says Boeing, which anticipates a full-rate production decision from the U.S. Navy in July.

The continued ramp-up comes as Boeing delivers the sixth aircraft to close out the first low-rate initial production (LRIP) batch of six P-8As for the Navy. A seventh aircraft, the first of seven more to be produced under LRIP-2, is set for delivery later this quarter, says the manufacturer, which also expects to hand over this year the first three P-8I variants to India.

In all, including six test aircraft built as part of the Navy’s System Development and Demonstration program, Boeing expects to have delivered 22 P-8s by the end of 2013. Overall, Boeing is under contract to build 24 P-8As as part of contracts awarded in 2011 and 2012, as well as eight P-8Is for the Indian navy. The upcoming full-rate production decision from the U.S. Navy will cover further procurement toward the total of 117 aircraft, with which it intends to replace the existing fleet of P-3s.

A decision on full-rate production is still dependent on the completion of a series of vulnerability tests that assess the ability of the P-8A and its systems to sustain impacts from a range of ballistic projectiles. Although some preliminary testing was completed using a former commercial 737 fuselage, similar to the modified 737-800 on which the P-8A is based, the final round of tests will use the former S-1 static test airframe.

The next three P-8As are undergoing mission systems installation and checkout in Seattle, and two more are in final assembly in Renton, Wash. The production rate is expected to climb to between one and one-and-a-half per month as deliveries increase to fulfill firm contracts that Boeing says could include additional orders from Australia in 2014.

Flight tests of the first Indian navy P-8I are expected to be completed later this month. The eight-month, 170-flight test effort, which included weapons drops of Harpoon anti-ship missiles, will be followed by an additional crew training period. The first aircraft is expected to be officially handed over to India in May.

P-8 photo: Boeing