Boeing’s P-8 program viewed as “model” defense procurement

The Boeing P-8A Poseidon program has been termed a model of procurement by the US Defense Department, reports Boeing program managers. It came in on cost and on time, and as more P-8s are delivered to the US Navy, the per-airplane cost is coming down—saving US taxpayers $2.1bn.

The Royal Aeronautical Society-Seattle Branch sponsored a public briefing Tuesday at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle at which the P-8 program was described.

Boeing 737-based P-8A Poseidon. Boeing photo.

Boeing will deliver its 20th P-8 to customers this year—the US Navy and India—in a program that eventually is expected to sell well more than 100 aircraft worldwide. The P-8, based on the 737-800, is replacing 50-year old Lockheed Martin P-3 Orions. The P-3 is based on the Lockheed Electra, a four-engine turbo-prop that entered commercial service in January 1959. The P-3 entered service in 1962, just in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Stephen Tripp, P-8A Business Development Senior Manager for Mobility, Surveillance and Engagement for Boeing, spent more than 30 years in the Navy, including flying P-3s and “chasing submarines.” He joined Boeing upon retirement on the P-8 program.

“Submarine threats are not going away,” Tripp said. “China and [Russian Premier Vladimir] Putin are launching subs at a rate not seen since the 1960s.”

P-8 production represents a departure from previous military programs based on commercial aircraft. These programs saw commercial airplanes coming off the line then going to a modification center for conversion to military specifications. The Boeing KC-767 International aerial tanker program, for Japan and Italy, was one such program—and it was a mess. Boeing took big write-offs and only eight were built. The program was in such disarray that the risk factor was one reason cited by the US Air Force in initially awarding the KC-X refueling tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and EADS/Airbus for the A330-based tanker. This award was overturned on appeal by Boeing, which won the re-run competition. The KC-46A, based on the 767-200ER, follows the P-8 model this time, using in-line production to build the military-spec’ed airplane right on the assembly line.

“[The P-8] is the first time we haven’t got an airplane [off the line], put it in the garage and cut it up to install the military equipment,” Tripp said. “This is cutting edge, in-line production process.”

The P-8 uses the 737-800 fuselage and is mated to the larger, 737-900ER wing, which is strengthened along with the fuselage, landing gear, horizontal and vertical tails and other components. The P-8 is larger than the P-3, which allows for growth of new electronics and equipment in the coming decades. The P-8 has aerial refueling capability, though as-yet unused, to allow 22 hours of endurance (at which point, engine oil is largely consumed).
Replacing the 50-year old P-3s was a major priority for the Navy. Operational Readiness of the P-3s has fallen to such a degree that two airplanes have to be prepared for a mission in case one fails. The P-8 draws upon the stellar commercial 737 dispatch reliability of greater than 99%, said Dave Pickering, P-8 Boeing Commercial Airplanes Program Manager. Because the 737 comprises about 25% of the global airline fleet, product support is available virtually everywhere.

34 Comments on “Boeing’s P-8 program viewed as “model” defense procurement

  1. Not only is the P-8A/I based on the B-737NG (with raked wingtips replacing blended winglets), but it already has cutting edge ASW and SAR capabilities. It also has plenty of room to expand capabilities and upgrade when newer technology is developed.
    I am hoping the KC-46A program can mirror that of the P-8A.

    • Obviously the KC-46A program is now viewed as the “model” defense procurement NOT to follow…:)

        • P-8 is vastly more complicated.

          KC-46 is simple in comparison, if you can do a p-8 then why can’t you do a much easier P-6,

          KC-46 is not the poster child of a bad program but it suffered an issue that should not have occurred.

  2. “The P-8 uses the 737-800 fuselage and is mated to the larger, 737-900ER wing”

    – What are the wing spec differences between the -800 and the -900ER? I thought they were both the same.

    • The wing planform is not physically larger but the gauge thicknesses of skins, spars and ribs are thicker to support the higher loads for the larger -900ER. This probably does two things for the P8, it buys some flight load capability and allows for a higher MTOW compared to the -800 platform it is based on.

    • The 900 has the same wing as the 800. The 900ER wing is gaged up along the entire span, especially so from about 60% span outboard. The latter was done to eliminate the flutter ballast weight required for the blended winglet.

    • We are talking about the procurement aspect here, not the development of the program (which does not look that good btw).
      The KC-46 procurement was a procurement mess: one initial contract, jail time for some, two RFPs, appeals, contract cancellation…everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.
      It never came on time and for cost, well that is a developing story.

  3. Congratulations to Boeing for running a good program here. What lessons can be transferred to other programs? I guess one lesson must be that running late to save money isn’t a good option, Boeing seem really determined to deliver on the KC-46A.

    • According to Wikipedia the time on station for P-8 is 4 hours at 1,200 nm.

      P-3 has 3 hours at 1,346 nm. According to a cruise speed of 328 kn the P-3 has 3 hours and 53 minutes at 1,200 nm.

      Without aerial refueling the P-8 offers 7 minutes more on station. Wow!

      • The P-8 cruises about 125 knots faster than the P-3 does. It gets out there faster, and with the higher cruse speed, it covers a lot more distance on station.

        • I missed to mention the search altitude for P-3: 1,500 ft.
          Cruise level for a 737 is about 30,000 ft.

          The covered distance is useless if your search is far too to shallow.

          The altitude difference is about more 25 dB in signal strength for MAD detection. US P-8 will have no MAD sensor.

          Forget sonobuoys. Modern diesel-electric submarines are very hard to detect. In case you hit the sail a buoy might work…

          Sinking of US carriers is a common habit of diesel submarines during exercises. ROKS Chang Bogos run always havoc during RIMPAC. The small Norwegian Ula-class was disqualified from exercises. After the fleet was sunken, the exercise was restarted without the subs…

  4. The P-8 is also proving so far not to be nearly as good at Anti Sub warfare as the P-3.

    The issue being the P-3 loiters very well at low altitudes and its prosecuting of a submarine target. The P-8 runs a different profile and it has yet to prove it can do that job. Jet engines us lots of fuel at low altiftude so they get high as much as they can.

    The reality is that the Navy has found it can use the P-3 as a mini command and control center, ELINT and EWS. Ergo the P-8 had those features enhanced.

    That may have taken away form what is the core role of anti sub warfare.

    And the time tested actual combat may never occur (we can hope)

    Conundrum is that anti sub warfare takes major assets. You hate to see those assets just training all the time so you use them for other things and the skill goes cold. Cold war was an active just short of combat in tracking Soviet subs, now we get a Chinese sub that surfaces in the middle of a carrier task force, really not good.

    However, when subs go hot, finding them is extremely hard and the damage that is done is enormous. Modern electric subs are far worse than anything in the past and worse are those with their independent power systems)

  5. “The P-3 is based on the Lockheed Electra, a four-engine turbo-prop that entered commercial service in January 1959.”

    … in other news, the P-8 is based on the Boeing 737, a twin-jet that entered commercial service in February 1968 (with Lufthansa)…

    More than 50 years after the Electra, a switch to a design a whole 9 years younger has become possible…

    The way things are going, Boeing might convert the 737 to make it suitable for the first manned landing on Mars…

    • An A400M can travel approximately 4,500 nm with a payload of 10 t. So at a range of 1,200 nm about 2,100 nm or 5 hours are left for search. I guess by switching of 2 engines and a reduced speed loiter time could be expended.

      • There is a reason why the A-400M, C-130, C-17, C-141, C-5, C-160, An-124, etc. are not used in the ASW mission. They are designed to handle cargo in the best method available, a wide fuselage below the wing with one or two ramps. No room for ASW thingies attached, and no bomb bay.
        OTOH, any Boeing or Airbus commercial airliner could do the job. How effective each airliner will be is another question. Seems to me the best airliners from either OEM to do the ASW job would be the B-737 or A-320 derivative.

        • Am I missing something here?, the P-8 is a 737

          As for wide bodies not being effective, no reason they could not be. They hang tanks off the wings of the Hercs as well as various drones (Vietnam anyway). Holes in the sides for gunship etc.

          It may not be as efficient in transit as a P-3, but I see no reason you could not add the required sonar buoy launch system etc.

          Not sure I see the difference in adding buoy launch and bomb bay to a Herc vs a 737 . (A400 too damned big). Lots of room inside for all the equipment.

          they obviously managed to do so to a much lighter frame 737, Herc should be a slam dunk and I was appalled they never looked at that option.

          It might not have worked but I would have liked to see the reasoning.

        • KCT is correct. Cargo aircraft like the A400/C130/C-17 etc have no bays to stow bombs, torpedo’s sensors etc) , are heavy (rough landings with heavy loads taking ground fire) and fat (drag).

          Of course one can fix things on those aircraft but they are not as suitable as efficient aircraft with weapon bays.

          Scaling down a bit, the E-jets and CSeries could also become suitable.

          Maybe a twin prop (more efficient for loitering) with a bay would be best. I don’t think it exists though..( well the dedicated Atlantic, but it’s old/big)

          I made a sketch for a dedicated multirole (tanker, asw, anti pirating, Command & control) platform years ago.

          Reality is the market is small no-one wants to invest the required billions these days. Using an existing platform is far cheaper and lower risk.

          • Additionally to what keesje has said, the C-17, A-400, C-130, etc. all have relatively flat bottoms that provide some small level of lift (the flat bottoms are to get the cargo deck as low as possible to accommodate loading/unloading). This additional lift may very well effect deployment of weapons from the weapons bay. Light weight deployable objects are less effected as they don’t need precision placement upon a target as bombs and torpedoes do. The WC-130 deploys weather sensors out the bottom of the aircraft (these may be ejected by compressed or bleed air) when penetrating hurricanes. But again, the positioning of deployed sensors is not critical as hurricane winds will blow the sensor off course anyway.

        • Everything is in place to use the A400M as an ASW platform.

          There is one hardpoint on each wing for refueling pods. These could be used for the buoys.

          The A400M has no bomb bay but a ramp. It was even thought to deliver cruise missile with a C-17.

          Use a torpedo instead.

          The operator stations could be palletized. A wind shield at the end to separate the crew from wind when the aft bomb bay is open.

          The A400M could be a real MRTT + ASW.

          The difference between the A400M and the C-130 is range. With ASW payload A400M has twice as much range or time on station. The C-17 offers about the same time on station but at twice the fuel consumption.

          Hey, Airbus. Already thought about it?

        • Btw. the torpedoes used on the P-8 need wings like a cruise missile to fly down to the right place. It would be no problem to through out this type of torpedo out of the back of a military cargo aircraft.

  6. So far all I see are non engineer opinions on the C-130 Anti Sub possibility.

    An A400 would seem to big.

    I would like to see a real engineer and aeronautical assessment

    I am neither so I cannot say, I can say I would like to see the possibility to have been explored and the factual reasoning behind it, not guess or opinions.

    A 737 never had bomb bays either and they put them in.

    They said Chrysler could not put a V6 into the original caravan, Hannibal got over the alps etc.

    Show me the facts, not opinions.

    • The USN flew the C-130 long before it flew the P-3A. They even landed and took off a C-130F upon the deck of the USS Forrestal. Like the C-135, the C-130 has become a kind of swiss army knife, converted to do many more missions than what it was originally designed for.
      But not once has it ever been suggested, that I know of, the C-130 could do the ASW mission of the P-3, and now P-8.
      Lockheed built both airplanes.

    • We know a Herc can fly low and slow the same as a P-3. All WWII and post WWII anti sub work was based on that profile.

      We don’t know how well a P-8 can do that anti sub mission as it only comes down low as part of the prosecution profile.

      I never saw any analysis why it would not or what issues there were.

      Military has been known to go with flashy vs needed. The A330 tanker contract was one of those. They awarded the contract on the size, not what the bid documents had in for the requirement (and specifically there was no bonus for exceeding)

      The Navy wants to maintain its foot in the land war as that is where the action is (currently)

      they have badly neglected anti sub, nothing has happened other than Falklands war in 60 years (Brits never did kill an Argentinian sub and the only reason they did not loose the war to them was the Argentinians has messed up their torpedo’s and they did not run correctly). The Brits had (two I believe) fast attacks out there and never found the Argentines.

      Ergo, when they realized the P-3 kept them in the land game even if not intended, then the P-8 was oriented more to that.

      So far the P-8 has not passed its anti sub requirements, that should be the first thing it passes, not the last.

      • “They awarded the contract on the size, not what the bid documents had in for the requirement (and specifically there was no bonus for exceeding)”

        I think the minimum requirements (~767 capacity) at the lowest costs and no points for additional capabilities was included by congress, after the KC30 won to achieve a satsfying selection.

        I think even the possible presence of an Argentine sub kept busy considerable UK forces 24/7 over a long period.

  7. “The P-8 has aerial refueling capability, though as-yet unused, to allow 22 hours of endurance (at which point, engine oil is largely consumed).”

    Why haven’t they figured out air-to-air re-oiling??? Billions spent and it’s limited to 22 hrs of endurance? Geez … 😛

    • The 22 hours of endurance is about the engine oil, but not as much as you would think. It has more to do with the aircrew and their ability to get rest before and after such a long mission.
      A 22 hour long mission is a 26-30 hour crew duty day, depending on how long they need for post mission debriefing and intelligence debriefing.

      • Hmpf.
        So they need a Streamliner Trailer in tow with B&B provisions?
        ( Years ago it was alleged that TK airplanes could be identified by their roof rack 😉

        Should the longer fuselage of the 900 have been used to provide restspace?
        .. Probably runs into MTOW limitations. wouldn’t the 757 then have been perfect ;-?

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