Boeing P-8 testing complete, set for 2013 deployment


The Boeing P-8 Poseidon has successfully completed operational testing and is set to deploy for the first time later this year with the US Navy, programme and company officials say. The aircraft is also set to enter full-rate production in 2013.

“We’re rapidly coming to the conclusion of almost all of our SDD [system development and demonstration] tasks,” says Rick Heerdt, Boeing vice-president for the P-8A programme, during a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. “We’re focused and driving towards a full-rate production decision and initial operational capability later this year.”

The first operational squadron will deploy in December 2013, says Capt Aaron Rondeau, the navy’s P-8A Poseidon integrated product team lead.

The only remaining developmental task left to complete is full fatigue life testing on the Boeing 737-dervived airframe, Heerdt says.

Production is ramping up in 2013 to 10 aircraft, from seven in 2012, with three of this year’s examples being for India, Heerdt says. India’s first P-8 will arrive in the country in the second quarter of 2013, with two more to arrive during the third quarter under an eight-aircraft order with the nation’s navy.

Australia is also expected to order a minimum of eight P-8s, Rondeau says. Canberra is expected to have the aircraft delivered and in service around 2016 or 2017, he adds. Australia is already participating in the development of the P-8’s Increment 2 and Increment 3 upgrades.

Increment 2 is broken up into two parts, the first of which will become operational in 2014, Rondeau says. This includes an early iteration of the Multi-static Active Coherent (MAC) sonar system, which consists of dozens of active sonar buoys that send out sonar pings from various directions while passive sonar buoys listen for the returns. Information is networked together to help the P-8 find and kill submarines.

A second, more advanced package will become operational in 2016. It will include an improved MAC, high altitude anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sensors and a high altitude ASW weapons capability, which Rondeau says is a Mk 54 torpedo with a wing-kit.

Increment 3, which is set to become operational in 2020, will add greater network centric warfare capabilities to the P-8, Rondeau says. It will also greatly improve the aircraft’s computer architecture and add new networked anti-ship weapons.


New maritime spy drone program of the US finally getting off the ground

by Andrew Tarantola

The world’s oceans are massive, easily big enough to hide a whole fleet of surface ships if not carefully monitored. That’s why the Pentagon’s newest Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) platform will keep its eyes peeled for enemy carrier groups from 60,000 feet up.

The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton does over the ocean what the RQ-4 Global Hawk does over land: continuous wide-area aerial surveillance. It’s designed to take over the role of the aging P-3 Orion, complement the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, a multimission aircraft based on the 737, and relay ISR information—specifically signal intelligence—to both carrier groups in the region and the Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander.

The Triton measures 48 feet long with a 130-foot wingspan. A single Rolls-Royce AE 3007 turbofan powers the UAS to speeds up to 375 MPH and altitudes up to 60,000 feet while toting more than 5,600 pounds of equipment. It can then remain aloft for up to 30 hours and cover some 2,000 nm. Since the Triton will face different climates and conditions than the Global Hawk, many of the MQ-4C’s have been re-engineered for naval operations. “The modifications include anti/de-ice, bird strike and lightning protection to meet planned mission profiles and a due regard radar for safe separation from other aircraft,” Capt. Jim Hoke, program manager, told Defense Tech.

The Triton’s sensor payload includes a 360-degree multifunction active sensor radar array capable of spotting surface ships and missiles, EO/IR sensors, and an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver, which allows the drone to identify and classify ships based on their transponder signals. It also includes a high-res, auto-targeting camera for video surveillance and communications equipment that will allow it to act as a line-of-sight node between two ships on either side of the horizon.

This $1.16 billion project has been in development since 2008 and debuted last June. To date, only two prototypes have been completed, though at third is nearly ready. Ground tests were scheduled to begin in late last September (so as to work out any bugs in the flight software before launching the UAS).

“Ground testing signifies our steady progress toward conducting Triton’s first flight,” said Steve Enewold, Northrop Grumman’s Triton program manager, in a press statement.

“Through numerous engine runs and checks with communications systems between the aircraft and ground controllers, we can ensure that everything is working properly before entering taxi testing as the next step in our efforts.”

And with the successful completion of those taxi tests, the MQ-4C is currently prepping for its first flight later this spring and conduct Initial Operational Test and Evaluations by 2015.

From there, a fleet of 68 MQ-4Cs stationed in Hawaii; Diego Garcia; NAS Jacksonville, Florida; Kadena Air Base, Japan; NAS Point Mugu, California; NAS Sigonella, Italy; and Andersen Air Force Base, Guam will take to the skies over international waters.