UK defence officials are likely to approve a planned purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), with a decision possible over the next seven days.
London indicated in a November defence and security review that it intended to acquire the 737-derived aircraft and the so-called maingate decision is one of the final steps prior to contract signature.
To be operated by the Royal Air Force, the CFM International CFM56-powered aircraft are to be acquired via the US government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
Speaking to media at NAS Jacksonville on 9 June, Andy Miller, commander of the US Navy’s VP-30 training squadron, said the decision is expected in June, and could even be made in the next seven days. Further announcements are then likely to be made at July’s Farnborough air show.VP-30 operates both P-8 and Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. RAF personnel have been training on the P-8 at Jacksonville under its Seedcorn MPA capability retainment effort. Defence secretary Michael Fallon also visited the site in May to discuss the introduction of the new type.
“We know what our own six transitions [from P-3 to P-8] look like now… and I spent time with the British contingency last month to outline their transition,” Miller says.
The USN has so far switched all six East Coast squadrons to the P-8, with their six West Coast counterparts to follow in October.
On 9 June the service received its 40th of a contracted 80 P-8s. Its total requirement is for 117 examples, with funding in place for 109.
US Navy prepares for west coast transition of Poseidon
The US Navy (USN) is to shortly begin transitioning its west coast maritime patrol squadrons over to the Boeing P-8A Poseidon as it looks to phase out of service the lion's-share of its Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion fleet before the end of the decade, a service official told reporters on 9 June.Speaking at the home of the USN's P-8A training force at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville in Florida, instructor pilot with Patrol Squadron (VP) 30, Lieutenant Nikee Giampietro, said that with all of the east coast fleet having recently completed the move at the base from the P-3C over to the P-8A, work to do the same for the west coast fleet at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state will begin in the coming weeks.
"[The USN] completed the stand up of its six east coast squadrons in April, and the west coast transition will start in the [beginning of the third quarter] of this year," Lt Giampietro said, adding that it will take approximately seven to eight months for each of the remaining six operational units to go through the transition process.
Those squadrons now stood up at NAS Jacksonville comprise VP-30 responsible for P-8A, P-3C, and Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle training, with P-8A operational units made up of VP-16, VP-5, VP-45, VP-8, VP-10, and VP-26. VP-30 will also undertake training for NAS Whidbey Island, with that station's operational P-8A units set to comprise VP-4, VP-47, VP-9, VP-1, VP-40, and VP-46. The first operational unit to be located at NAS Whidbey Island will be VP-4, which is currently deployed to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. The second unit will be VP-47, with the remaining order to be announced.
The USN plans to transition over to the P-8A for all its Patrol Squadrons by 2019, although a number of P-3Cs may remain in service after this date with the Special Projects Patrol Squadron.
Initial P-8A pilot training by VP-30 typically takes six months, and is conducted chiefly at the Integrated Test Center (ITC) at NAS Jacksonville. Another VP-30 instructor pilot, Lieutenant John Fazetta, noted that the training philosophy can be summed up as "crawl, walk, and then run", with classroom-based instruction, simulation, and real-world flight time all being utilised during the course of instruction.
Briefing reporters on the 11,600 m 2 ITC, Commander Andy Miller, officer in-charge of the Fleet Integration Team (FIT), said that pilots receive 100 hours of instruction on the centre's 10 CAE-built and Boeing-adapted Operational Flight Trainers (OFTs), plus 36 hours of actual flight time. The OFTs can be networked with the rear-crew Weapons Tactics Trainers (WTTs), with the combined system being dubbed the Weapons System Trainer (WST).
As well as the USN students that pass through the ITC, NAS Jacksonville also hosts 12 UK Royal Air Force (RAF) and 36 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel ahead of those countries receiving P-8s in the future. India, the other current operator of the P-8, does not have any personnel in the United States as the Indian Navy (IN) procured its P-8I Neptunes directly from Boeing rather than through the Foreign Military Sales programme.
According to Cmdr Miller, while the inclusion of the UK and Australian crews in the ITC has not changed the way the way in which the USN conducts its maritime patrol aircraft operations, it has had a positive effect. "We haven't made any wholesale changes as we are already pretty closely aligned to the UK and Australia," he said, adding, "We have got better though [as a result]".
The USN has a programme of record of 117 P-8A aircraft, of which 109 have been approved and 80 contracted. Of these, 40 have so far been delivered across five production lots (there will be 10 lots in all). The IN has received its initial eight aircraft and ordered a further four; the RAAF has ordered eight and approved a further four; while the UK is set to sign for nine. In terms of global sales, Boeing sees a market for the P-8 of 100 aircraft over the next decade.Derived from the Boeing 737-800 commercial airliner (but with 737-900 wings), the P-8 Poseidon has been built by a Boeing-led industry team that includes CFM International, GE Aviation, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Spirit AeroSystems.
Compared to its P-3 predecessor, the P-8 can be described as being able to operate further and faster, while being more reliable. A cursory comparison between the four-turboprop P-3 and twin-jet P-8 gives the former an endurance of 3.6 hours at 1,200 n miles and the latter 4.7 hours at the same distance (with the option of aerial refuelling soon to be adopted by the USN also). The P-3 can carry 18 weapons and 84 sonobuoys, while the P-8 can carry 12 and 120 respectively. The P-3 has a transit speed of 340 kt, while that of the P-8 is 440 kt. The older P-3 has a fleet availability rate of 60%, while that of the newer P-8 is 80%.
While the P-8 has proven to be a more than able successor to its venerable P-3 forebear, former P-3 operator and current P-8 instructor with VP-30, Lieutenant Commander Eric Andrews, was keen to redress the balance ever so slightly in favour of his former platform, telling reporters, "I'll give you an example, to prove that I'm not a Boeing employee, of where the P-3 will always beat the P-8. When it comes to visibility from the flight deck - the size of the windows and the deck angle at lower speeds - the P-3 always wins."
Other than that rather small caveat, both Lt Cmdre Andrews and Cmdre Miller were both full of praise for the P-8, saying that it had so far "exceeded all expectations" since it was introduced into service in 2013.