The first Boeing P-8A Poseidon for the Royal Australian Air Force has arrived at its new home with 11 Squadron at RAAF Base Edinburgh north of Adelaide, heralding a “giant leap forward” in maritime warfare capability, according to Chief of Air Force (CAF) Air Marshal Leo Davies.
And the P-8A is set to take over some of the AP-3C Orion’s duties as soon as the middle of next year, ahead of the retirement at the end of 2019 of the ageing aircraft it is partially replacing.
Speaking in Canberra on November 16, AIRMSHL Davies explained that there are many dimensions to the new aircraft.
“We are going to manage the waters that are around Australia, and work with our coalition partners and our international partners,” CAF said.
“It will be able to do intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; it will be able to do communications relay; it will be able to do radar detection for surface forces, and identification; it will be able to continue to do what the P-3 does in terms of search and rescue.”
The P-8A is equipped with advanced sensors and mission systems, including a multirole radar, high-definition cameras and an acoustic system that is said to boast four times the processing capacity of the AP-3C, as well as an extensive communications suite.
To illustrate the magnitude of this leap forward in capability, AIRMSHL Davies declared that if the Orion aircraft is seen as akin to a walkie-talkie then the Poseidon is like the Internet of Things, seeking to realise mass device and information connectivity in the maritime environment.
“P-8 is certainly the future; it is the generational leap that we are going to make in the maritime domain,” he said. “It has greater range, it certainly has more connectivity; it has advanced acoustics, and it has a radar system that is world class.
“When we integrate this with Triton [unmanned aircraft systems] in the early ‘20s, with the Air Warfare Destroyer, Future Frigate and both our submarine classes, we will have a fifth-generation maritime force.”
A47-001 is the first of 15 aircraft that the Australian government has committed to acquiring, with 12 P-8As already contracted under the AIR 7000 Phase 2 Maritime Patrol and Response Aircraft System project to be delivered by March 2020.
AIRMSHL Davies described the experience of attending the rollout ceremony for this first P-8A on September 27 in Seattle, Washington, to accept the aircraft into service with the RAAF.
“You could feel how important this asset is to the Royal Australian Air Force, to Boeing and to the United States Navy,” he said.
“I did speak with many of the Boeing workers at the time. They have a passion; they know exactly every rivet, every part of this aircraft, and they put it together so that we can have a combat effect.
“We are going to need that same passion, that same commitment from the Navy, from the Royal Australian Air Force, from CASG [the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group] and from Boeing to be able to generate what this aeroplane is going to do.”
Boeing Defence Australia has signed a contract with Defence covering the provision of four years of sustainment support for the P-8A, it was announced in October.
Speaking at the rollout ceremony in Seattle, AIRMSHL Davies had emphasised the close relationship between Australia and the US in the context of the P-8A cooperative program, for which the US Navy is the prime contractor.
“The acquisition and introduction into service of the P-8A has only served to strengthen our relationship,” CAF said at the time.
“The bilateral cooperative program approach for the P-8A between Australia and the United States has been very successful; it is now the model to which our other Air Force projects aspire.
“Working together with the USN to develop mission and system requirements for this aircraft, we have been able to create an advanced platform that will provide both a foundational capability and a growth path for the future decades.”
AIRMSHL Davies acknowledged the presence at the rollout ceremony of Australian P-8A aircrew and maintainers who have been embedded with the US Navy’s Patrol Squadron Thirty (VP-30) and the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit Jacksonville in Florida since early 2015.
“Working side-by-side with their USN counterparts, this team has been part of an Australian instructor cadre that are supporting the training of another 220 RAAF personnel here in the United States, prior to our own training [system] being established in mid-2018,” he said.
“Speaking to the team here today, it is obvious that they have been the recipients of some of the best training in the world from the USN, and that this training has been delivered in a supportive and collegiate atmosphere.”
The P-8 is a commercial derivative aircraft based on the Boeing Next-Generation 737-800 fuselage.
The aircraft is substantially structurally modified to include a weapons bay, and under-wing and under-fuselage hardpoints for weapons, as well as being given increased strengthening to allow it to perform low-level operations and high angle of bank turns.
The 737-800 aircraft fuselage is built at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas and is then transported by rail to Boeing’s 737 factory at Renton, Washington where it joins a production line dedicated to P-8 aircraft and receives its wings (from the 737-900 for added strength), tail and CFM56-7B engines.
From there, the aircraft is flown to Boeing Field for mission systems installation and checkout, where it receives military systems and sensors before being tested and delivered.
Australia’s first P-8A took off on its maiden flight from Renton Field to Boeing Field on May 6.
The next aircraft is anticipated to be delivered in March 2017.