Boeing is testing the first P-8A maritime patrol aircraft to be produced for the U.S. Navy under the third Low Rate Production (LRIP-3) batch, marking the start of a new expansion phase which will see the operational fleet increase to 21 by the end of 2014. The aircraft, which is due for delivery in June, will join the force around the time that the second operational P-8A patrol squadron, VP-5, is scheduled to deploy.
The first squadron, VP-16, based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., has achieved initial operational capability and the third squadron, VP-45, will start its transition from the P-3C later this year after returning from a deployment to the Western Pacific. This year also sees a significant build up in tactical capability with the integration of the next step in the multi-phased ‘Increment’ upgrade program. The first operational aircraft are configured with a standard Increment 1 equipment suite based on an improved version of the P-3 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) system. The Navy is now rolling in the first part of Increment 2 which includes a refresh of the acoustic processor on the LRIP-2 aircraft.
The first LRIP-3 P-8A on a test sortie off the Washington coast. (Boeing)
The acoustic processor update enables the follow-on introduction in LRIP-3 aircraft of the multi-static active coherent (MAC) anti-submarine search system which is due to be brought into the fleet in two blocks, or engineering change proposals (ECPs). The first, ECP1, also including an update to the interface with the TacMobile ground station that currently support the existing P-3 Orion fleet. The first phase introduces the MAC shallow water acoustic search capability while ECP2, covering the second phase of the MAC, will provide deep water capability.
The second element of Increment 2, currently set for introduction with the start of full-rate production in 2016, will include full MAC capability and a raft of other upgrades including additional improvements to the TACMobile system. The aircraft will also be loaded with Rapid Capability insert software upgrades, a High-Altitude ASW Sensor and the High-Altitude ASW Weapon Capability (Haawc), a Mark 54 torpedo fitted with a GPS-guided wing and tail kit which will enable the weapon to be launched from altitudes up to 30,000 ft. This upgrade phase is also scheduled to include integration of the ship-tracking Automatic Information System.
Increment 3, scheduled for initial operating capability in 2020, will introduce a ‘net-ready’ systems architecture for more flexible software-based enhancements and net-enabled anti-surface warfare weapons and targeting. This is expected to include interfaces to work, and possibly task, the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned air vehicle as well as expanded intelligence gathering capabilities. The phase will also see the introduction of the electronically-scanned Advanced Aerial Sensor (AAS) high-resolution surveillance radar on the P-8A.