Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and antisubmarine warfare aircraft starts its formal U.S. Navy operational evaluation at the end of this month, and a successful outcome – pass and fail are the only grades – will open the way to the first deployment with VP-16 at Kadena AB in Japan, due in December, and a full-rate production decision. Boeing is now delivering aircraft from the second low-rate initial production batch of seven, and 2013 will see 11 aircraft delivered to the USN and three P-8Is to India.

One aspect of the P-8A program that nobody at Boeing wants to talk about, however, is the integration of the Raytheon Advanced Airborne Sensor, a long-range high-resolution air-to-surface radar carried in an under-belly canoe fairing. The P-8A was designed from the outset to accommodate AAS – that was why Boeing based it on the 737-800 and moved the weapon bay aft of the wing. The radar is a second-generation version of the APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System, secretly developed in the early 2000s and flown on modified P-3s.

An undisclosed number of P-8As will carry AAS and Boeing has a contract to complete integration, but questions about it were off limits during the company’s May media tour. The radar can be used for both ground surveillance and anti-surface warfare, which may account for some of the sensitivity around the program. In the absence of a USAF replacement for the E-8C Joint Stars, some observers consider that the Navy may find its P-8A/AAS fleet filling that gap at the behest of the combatant command (Cocom), regardless of other missions.