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 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.