Skip to comments.Navy P-8 Missing the Mark
Posted on 09/24/2012 11:14:30 AM PDT by pabianice
We recently attended a briefing on the Navys new P-8 Poseidon aircraft, the replacement for the P-3C Orion. The short version is that it is not working out as hoped and that US Navy airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is in jeopardy.
The P-8 is based upon the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, an airplane in wide, successful use worldwide for decades. Like the P-3, the concept is to use a variant of a commercial airframe so as not to have to design a new military aircraft from scratch, such as the P-2 Neptune, developed during World War II and serving through the SP-2H model into the early 1970s in the Reserves.
Looked good on paper. The P-3 was rapidly deteriorating from over-use. Introduced to the fleet as the P-3A in 1962, and designed for a life-time of 10,000 hours, it continues to fly today as the P-3C and EP-2E, with some airframes now exceeding 30,000 hours. Time and over-use have devastated the P-3 fleet, down from 456 flying airframes in the US Navy in the 1970s to approximately 85 airworthy craft today. While some are being re-winged to again extend the life until the P-8 was to have come on line in numbers, the P-3C fleet is barely limping along at present. Just as bad, as the Soviet Navy disintegrated in the 1990s, the P-3s ASW mission was abandoned in all but name in favor of over-land, Southwest Asian missions, where its long flight endurance of up to14 hours and large intelligence suite allows real-time surveillance of the battlefield for on-scene commanders. UAVs help fill the gaps, but cannot compare to the capabilities of a 12-20-man P-3 crew loitering at 20,000 feet above a battlefield.
After the Lockheed P-7 was put out of its misery in the 1980s, the Boeing P-8 was conceived as a 156-airframe replacement for the already dwindling number of P-3s, a number of P-8s then reduced to 108 aircraft, to be augmented by dedicated UAVs and UCAVs for persistent surveillance over-ocean missions. The P-3s 330 knot enroute speed would be substantially increased to over 500 knots with the P-8, meaning a faster arrival on station. Since a jet burns far more fuel per mile than a turboprop, the P-3s low-level endurance was to be sacrificed by a never before tried high-altitude precision ASW at or above 20,000 feet, meaning abandonment of what had been traditional low-level tracking of and attack upon a submarine. Torpedoes dropped from 200-500 feet will now become glide-bombs: torpedoes with wings dropped from 20,000 feet to somehow reach a fleeing submarine before it's long gone. The P-8s MAD boom was summarily dispatched. To those of us with real world ASW experience, the picture was questionable and depended upon no yet developed new ASW techniques and technology.
At the recent brief we were instructed about new, smaller, light-weight sonobouys equipped with GPS that will be launched from rotary launchers aboard the P-8. This is aimed at plot stabilization, or plotstab, a critical element in ASW. A submarine or surface contact is positioned with respect to the sono pattern dropped. Unless you know where your bouys are, you cant know where your target is. The GPS-broadcasting bouys are meant to align target location with the real world. This will be especially tough because the P-8 is meant to stay above 20,000 feet. This altitude restriction is imposed for several reasons, but we were informed it is primarily because the P-8s planned onsta performance is not even close to what the Boeing and Navy engineers estimated, and is, in fact perhaps four hours, or about half that of the P-3 or even the P-2. While this was not elaborated upon at the brief, those listening could only come up with two possibilities: most missions will be mid-ocean (unlikely) or, the aircraft performance is far below what Boeing promised. Another issue was crew manning. The P-8 is being equipped with an air-to-air refueling capability. This has not actually been tested, nor is there provision for the P-8 to carry a relief crew. Thirdly, the training pipeline was described as an astounding 15 months for new aircrew. Finally, the nominal 108 aircraft seems to have been an overstatement. According to the brief, there will be three P-8 bases in the U.S.: NAS Jacksonville, FL, with six squadrons; NAS Whidbey Island, WA, with three squadrons; and MCAS Kaneohe, HI, with three squadrons. With each squadron these days being comprised of six aircraft, thats 72 P-8s under the current plan. While there is some work being done on the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV being done, there was no word of whether that will actually happen or in what numbers.
The Navy is still claiming the first P-8 squadron will stand up in 2013. But in January, 2013, the military will be hit with sequestration. The latest estimate is that the military will lose $585 billion in another four months, with another $110 billion being cut thereafter. The flawed P-8 cannot survive under this plan. In fact, the US Navy cannot meaningfully exist under this plan. But the next war wont care. With anti-submarine warfare and anti-mine warfare basically gone, our ships are themselves in serious jeapordy. Most of our enemies with coast lines are busy buying AIP diesel subs, which the P-8 is supposed to be able to find and sink. The horrific TV pictures of our carriers burning will go from science fiction to fact.
Long legs, can go low and slow, rugged, can carry a bunch of weight, air to air refuel-able. I hope the aviation experts will correct me if this is not a workable plan, but in my opinion, it seems a 130 is a no brainer as a replacement for the P-3.
The best ASW platform is another sub. Dump the P-8 for AWS purposes and build more attack boats.
I can't understand the deal with the P-3. It has done the job. It has been used for many things in addition to ASW.
They say the planes have to be phased out because they are too old. Here's a question. Did the boys who built them forget how to make new ones?
Disclaimer: I have a close relative who flies P-3's. He's way too low on the food chain to affect policy. He thought the cash they put in the new platform could have been better spent upgrading the surveillance technology.
Most of the “boys” who built them have probably died of old age.
Probably missing something. The C-130J is too easy and obvious of a solution.
Can’t go with improved a completely NEW and RADICAL change is essential to spend more money.
Roll on-Roll off electronics & weapons suites, turbo props for low altitude endurance, air to air refueling already in place, kazillions of airframes already made AND it is one of the most rugged airframes ever made.
Plus, if needed on a long over water flight, you could always stop at the nearest carrier for a potty break, gas & go and a quick meal. Or crew change.
Yup, up to abt 120K Gross in 21 full stop landings and takeoffs.
I guess there is a way to bring out the F-35 engines after all since they won’t fit in the Greyhounds.
I don’t think there’s enough hanger space below decks on a deployed, active carrier, to stow all the airframes they wouldn’t want to see damaged if something were to go amiss during a Hurc landing.
Yea, it’s doable, but there’s a reason it’s not actively used in such a capacity.
September 24, 2012
Boeing has confirmed a $1.9 billion U.S. Navy order for 11 P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, which the company describes as a stepping-stone to full-rate production.
The order represents the manufacturers third low-rate initial production award, and follows two in 2011 that combined for 13 aircraft. The new order will take the Navys total fleet to 24, as part of an overall plan to acquire 117 as replacements for the Lockheed Martin P-3.
The first three P-8As have been delivered to the Navy at Jacksonville, Fla., where the initial squadron is transitioning from the P-3. An additional six flight-test and two ground-test aircraft have been assembled and delivered under a Navy system development and demonstration contract awarded in 2004. Boeing, which based the P-8A on the 737-800 airframe, says the test aircraft have completed more than 600 sorties and 2,500 flight hours to date.
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