Program Dossier: P-8 Poseidon
[Editor’s Note: This dossier is excerpted from the full program profile, available to Aviation Week Intelligence Network subscribers at awin.aviationweek.com, which also features sections on program history, features and upgrades.]
The Boeing P-8 Poseidon is a U.S. maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) based on the 737-800 ERX and powered by a pair of CFM International CFM56-7B27 jet engines. Boeing offers the aircraft in two distinct variants. The P-8A is the standard configuration for the U.S. Navy and most international customers. India is the sole operator of the P-8I. As of the time of this writing, 156 P-8s are in service.
Production and Delivery History
Six prototype aircraft were produced as part of the SDD phase. As of October 2022, a total of 156 P-8s (144 P-8As and 12 P-8s) had been delivered with 44 aircraft remaining on order. Production of the U.S. Navy’s outstanding order of 128 aircraft is expected to conclude by early 2025. Boeing has urged international operators to sign contracts prior to that point such that they are able to take advantage of the lower fly-away costs associated with higher-economies-of-scale production. As of late 2021, Boeing has said there is a global market opportunity for approximately 75 P-3 replacement aircraft over the next decade.
Historically, Boeing maintained a production rate of 1.5 aircraft per month, or 18 per year. In April 2022, the company reduced P-8A production to one per month following reduced demand. The FY2022 PBR (the last year with USN orders) lists the P-8A’s flyaway cost at $173 million.
Boeing assembles each P-8 as part of a two-stage process. Spirit AeroSystems deliveries 737-800 ERX fuselages, nacelles and pylons to Boeing’s Renton, Washington, facility where final assembly is completed. The airframe is then taken to the nearby Boeing Field facility where mission systems are installed in a secure facility.
As of the FY2023 budget, the current U.S. P-8A Program of Record (POR) is 128 production aircraft – all of which have been contracted. The Poseidon’s procurement objective has gradually been revised upwards throughout the life of the program. In 2016, the POR stood at 109 aircraft, but the service maintained a “full warfighting requirement” for 117 aircraft. Congress acceded to the request and budgeted a total of 119 P-8As through FY2020. However, Navy leadership subsequently revised its “full warfighting requirement” to 138 aircraft – enabling the service to fully replace the P-3 in both its active and reserve squadrons. Congress added nine U.S. Naval Reserve (USNR) aircraft to its final FY2021 appropriations bill worth $1.575 billion. The FY2023 request justifies ending P-8A procurement at 128 aircraft “due to a required balancing of overall Navy fiscal and warfighting capability priorities.” Out of the total fleet of 128 aircraft, the USNR will field a total of 11 aircraft split between VP-62 and VP-93.
As shown on the chart above, continued funding for the CH-53K, F-35B/C and F/A-18E/F modifications applied downward pressure on the P-8A POR. These three programs will largely shape the service’s aviation procurement budget until the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) system comes online in the 2030s. The Navy’s FY2023 request details $3.6 billion in P-8A procurement and over $1.2 billion in RDT&E for Increment III and miscellaneous upgrades between FY2021-2027.
Outside of the procurement POR, eight test aircraft have been procured using research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funding during the SDD phase of the program. Six of the test aircraft are airworthy while the remaining two are static ground test examples:
- T-1 Airworthiness/envelope expansion test article (T-1)
- T-2 Primary mission system flight test article (T-2)
- T-3 Mission system and weapon certification aircraft (T-3)
- T-4 Operational test - production representative aircraft (T-4)
- T-5 Operational test - production representative aircraft (T-5)
- T-6 Operational test - production representative aircraft (T-6)
- S-1 Static test article & Live Fire Test & Evaluation (S-1)
- S-2 Fatigue test article (S-2)
Operational test aircraft are flown by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VX-1) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Twenty (VX-20) and are based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Milestone C was achieved on Aug. 11, 2010. Four lots of low-rate initial production (LRIP) followed, covering 6, 7, 11, and 13 aircraft (for a total of 37). Full-rate production (FRP) was approved on Jan. 3. 2014. The last USN P-8A is scheduled for delivery in early 2025 as part of Lot 12.
In July 2017, France and Germany announced an intent to develop an indigenous maritime intelligence capability with a roadmap to be formed in 2018. The subsequent framework was reached during the 2018 ILA airshow in Germany. The joint Maritime Airborne Warning System (MAWS) would replace 20 to 25 German and French P-3Cs and Dassault Atlantiques starting in 2035. Germany had planned to launch a comprehensive service life extension program for its Orion fleet through June 2019 until MoD analysis concluded such an effort was unsustainable. The German MoD decided to seek an “interim” fleet of ASW aircraft that would enter service around 2025 and sustain German ASW capability until MAWS entered service. France offered secondhand Atlantiques but the German Navy assessed the platform as not a cost-effective replacement and instead pursued the P-8A. The DSCA issued a notification regarding the potential sale of five P-8As as well as associated equipment and support services worth $1.77 billion in March 2021. These aircraft were contracted as part of Lot 12 in June of that year.
By July, French sources reported that the country was increasingly distrustful of Germany’s claims that the P-8A was an interim solution and signaled that it would withdraw from MAWS. As a fallback option, Dassault has suggested developing its Falcon 10X as an MPA platform. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a €100 billion modernization fund to meet urgent capability shortfalls. In June 2022, Germany announced that it would more than double its P-8A fleet to a dozen aircraft. Germany has continued to maintain the Poseidon was an interim solution even after floating an expanded buy.
“The MAWS project timeline is working towards 2035, but as in any project there is risk attached to that,” said Captain Thorsten Bobzin, the commanding officer of the German Navy’s air command. “For the first time, we are in a place where we don’t need to have projects successfully implemented by the deadline we work towards now…Now we have an aircraft [the P-8] that will be there, we’re not pressed for time, and we will be able to convert to a new aircraft in our own time,” Bobzin said.
Bobzin also said the German Navy had expressed an interest in adding a new anti-ship missile to the Poseidon but did not name the weapon. He noted that the U.S. Navy was looking to add a second anti-ship weapon to the platform (LRASM) in addition to the Harpoon missile already integrated. The German Navy expects to declare IOC for its P-8A fleet in 2026.
In January 2009, New Delhi signed a Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) agreement with Boeing for eight P-8I Neptunes in a deal valued at $2.1 billion. The contract included an option for four more aircraft. Three aircraft were delivered in 2013, another three in 2014 and the final two were delivered in 2015. On July 14, 2015, India’s Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the exercising of the option for four aircraft. On July 27 of that year, New Delhi signed the follow-on order for the aircraft during a visit by Frank Kendall (then U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics) to India. Boeing delivered the 9th aircraft in late 2020, the 10th and 11th aircraft in 2021 and the 12th and final aircraft in 2022.
In June 2019, India expressed interest in a third batch of ten P-8Is. By December of that year, the DAC approved a truncated buy of six aircraft. The DSCA issued a notification regarding the potential sale of six P-8Is as well as associated equipment and support services worth $2.42 billion in April 2021. The notification highlights that the third batch would be acquired via FMS unlike the prior two batches. As of June 2022, the P-8I purchase is being reviewed as part of a broader defense import review. With a three-year gap between placing orders and deliveries, India has an increasingly limited window of opportunity to place new orders. Boeing expects P-8 production to end around 2025. The country risks a repeat of the C-17A program in which India was unable to file the appropriate documentation in time to acquire the full number of additional aircraft it wanted prior to the line closing in 2010.
P-8Is have fully replaced the Tu-142M in the ASW role, the last of which were retired in March 2017. India has also utilized its P-8Is in the ESM surveillance role along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on its border with the People’s Republic of China.
Boeing has engaged with Indian suppliers for technology transfer, work placement and production assistance. State-run Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has designed the Data Link II for the P-8I, a communications system that will enable exchange of tactical data and messages between Indian Navy aircraft, ships and shore establishments. BEL also has delivered the identification friend-or-foe (IFF) interrogator. Dynamatic Technologies and Tata Advanced Materials Limited (TAML) delivered P-8I power and mission equipment cabinets. TAML also provided P-8I auxiliary power unit door and tail cone assemblies. On June 19, 2017, Boeing was awarded a three-year contract to provide materiel, sustainment and logistics support to India’s fleet of P-8I aircraft. In May 2022, Boeing Defense India announced a partnership with Air Works for P-8I MRO services based in Hosur, Tamil Nadu, India.
India’s P-8I incorporates some unique design features as well as some indigenously built subsystems tailored for the country’s maritime patrol requirements. These include an aft radar and tail-mounted MAD. The P-8I is equipped with the Raytheon APY-10(I) to comply with export restrictions, i.e. the radar features degraded SAR resolution and precision targeting capability. Similarly, the P-8I is fitted with the “commercial ARES-1000” ESM system instead of the ALQ-240(V)1.
Australia’s involvement with the P-8 program began in 2009 when it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Navy to collaborate on the development of the Increment 2 technology. A follow-on development MOU was signed in March 2012 under which Australia contributed A$73.9 million towards the development of the Increment 3 upgrades. An Increment 3 project arrangement was signed in September 2012. As part of the agreement, the RAAF maintains personnel in the USN’s P-8 program office to collaborate on the development of the aircraft. Due to its collaborative role in the P-8A program, Australia’s P-8A purchases are distinct from Foreign Military Sales aircraft in contract filings and are occasionally referred to as cooperative agreement partner aircraft.
On Feb. 21, 2014, the Australian government announced approval for an acquisition of eight P-8As with an option for four more under an initial A$4.8 billion program. Canberra signed an advanced procurement contract in August 2014 for the first four aircraft, which were produced as part of Lot 6. However, Australia’s 2016 Defense White Paper (DWP) revealed that Australia intended to acquire seven additional aircraft in two tranches for a total fleet of 15 P-8As by the late 2020s. In February 2016, Canberra approved the procurement of the first tranche of four aircraft for A$1.295 billion; they were put on contract on March 30, 2017, as part of FRP-4 (Lot 8). The RAAF’s first P-8 arrived in Australia on November 16, 2016, and the 12th aircraft was delivered in January 2020.
Australia’s Department of Defense initially declined to specify if it would expand its P-8A fleet beyond 12 aircraft as part of the 2020 Force Structure plan. However, in December 2020, then Defense Minister Linda Reynolds announced an additional pair of aircraft would be acquired – bringing the total RAAF POR to 14 aircraft. These aircraft were contracted as part of Lot 12 in April 2021.
The first four RAAF P-8As were delivered in the Increment 2 ECP 2 configuration. The RAAF plans to follow the USN’s proposed P-8A upgrade schedule such that both fleets are nearly identical with respect to the ECP 4-7 modifications. The Force Structure 2020 plan budgets A$2.4 to A$3.6 billion ($1.6-$2.5 billion) for the P-8A capability assurance program. The only non-USN configuration changes to RAAF P-8As will be Harpoon Block 1G integration and the inclusion of a search-and-rescue kit. Like the USN, the RAAF plans to operate its Poseidon fleet in tandem with the MQ-4C Triton UAS.
On March 25, 2016, the U.S. DSCA notified the U.S. Congress of a potential sale of nine P-8As to the UK in a deal valued at $3.2 billion including associated major defense equipment. On July 11, 2016, at the Farnborough Airshow outside London, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his government had that day signed the FMS contract for the aircraft, which will be operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The aircraft was selected to fill the gap in maritime patrol capability that was left open when the RAF canceled its Nimrod MRA4 program and retired its Nimrod MR2s in 2010.
Initially, there was some discussion that the UK P-8As might carry some British components or weapons but in his December 2015 responses to Parliamentary questions, UK Minister for Defense, Equipment, Support and Technology Philip Dunne said London’s P-8As would be brought into service “without significant modification to ensure the delivery of operational capability as soon as is practicable.” While sharing a common configuration with the USN will reduce cost and schedule concerns, RAF P-8As will have limited tanker support. RAF P-8As will be delivered with a standard boom tanker aerial refueling receptacle that is not compatible with the RAF’s A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Voyager hose-and-drogue refueling system.
The RAF’s first two P-8As were produced as part of FRP-4 (Lot 8), announced on March 30, 2017. This was followed by a contract for three additional aircraft on Dec. 21, 2017, as part of FRP-5 (Lot 9). The RAF’s final four were procured in FRP-6 (Lot 10). A contract for long-lead funding associated with these aircraft was first announced on March 5, 2018. All nine RAF aircraft were delivered between October 2019 and January 2022.
On Nov. 28, 2016, Norway’s government announced it had submitted a proposal for Parliamentary approval for the purchase of five P-8s to replace its fleet of six P-3 Orions and two Dassault Falcon 20 electronic warfare aircraft. On Dec. 21, 2016, the U.S. DSCA notified Congress of a potential FMS sale of five aircraft in a deal valued at $1.75 billion including sensors, spares, training and support equipment, as well as 2,000 sonobuoys. No weapons were included in the announcement. On March 29, 2017, Oslo signed the FMS letter of offer and acceptance (LOA). The Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNAF) took delivery of all five aircraft between November 2021 and May of 2022.
In February 2017, Hans Kongelf, vice president of missile systems at Kongsberg, announced the company was studying the P-8A’s compatibility with the Joint Strike Missile (JSM). While Kongelf anticipated JSM integration would be straightforward, he cautioned that Kongsberg had yet to submit a formal proposal to the Government.
In June 2018, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration approved the purchase of six P-8As. South Korean officials reportedly examined Saab’s Swordfish offer but found it to be as expensive as the higher-performance P-8A. In September 2018, the DSCA issued a notification regarding the potential sale of six P-8As to South Korea along with related equipment and support services worth $2.03 billion. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) is expected to take delivery of its fleet between 2022 and 2023.
In July 2018, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) selected the P-8A to replace its P-3K fleet after a competitive evaluation. The source selection follows an earlier April 2017 DSCA notification that outlined the potential sale of four P-8As as well as associated equipment and support services worth $1.46 billion.
In March 2022, Spirt AeroSystems laid the keel beam of New Zealand’s first aircraft. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2023.
Saudi Arabia (Proposed)
On May 20, 2017, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed a letter of intent (LOI) to procure an unspecified number of P-8 aircraft. The LOI accompanies the formalization of Boeing commercial sales and related maintenance support to Saudi Gulf Airlines for an unspecified model of widebody commercial airliners. Since the announcement, the Kingdom has opted to purchase four multi-mission surface combatants (modified LCS) and ten MH-60Rs to meet its ASW needs.