FLIGHT OF THE POSEIDON
In the 1980's the United States Navy was faced with a dilemma. Its fleet of P-3 Orion turboprop antisubmarine aircraft was beginning to age and the USN was looking at both foreign and domestic aircraft for its ASW mission, though no clear choice became evident. Finally, in the early 2000's the Navy had its winner in the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. This blog will follow the development of the Poseidon into one of the most capable naval aircraft.
The Lockheed P-3 Orion, a turboprop ASW aircraft had been in service with the USN since 1962, but began to experience problems in the 1980's due to increasing weight and airframe fatigue. A limiting factor of a contract for a P-3 replacement was a requirement by the Navy that any new aircraft had to have reduced operating and support costs. While Lockheed was awarded a fixed-price contract in 1989 to pursue development of the P-7, the contract was cancelled the following year. No further initiatives were taken to replace the P-3 for ten years, then a second round of bidding began in 2000. Lockheed-Martin submitted the Orion 21, an updated version of the P-3. British Aerospace & Electronic Systems (BAE) offered a new-build version of the NimrodA4, a British jet-powered maritime patrol aircraft. Boeing also presented a proposal based on its 737-800 jetliner. Though the BAE proposal was feasible, they needed an American partner to produce a number of components for the aircraft. Under pressure from the US Congress, BAE withdrew its proposal in October 2002 due to the desire of Congressional leaders to make the new anti-submarine aircraft a domestically built plane. In May 2004, Boeing was selected as the winner of the Multimission Maritime Aircraft program, with the United States Navy awarding the development contract to Boeing.
Though there was initial skepticism to the idea of modifying a civilian jetliner to a military aircraft, the concept is not new as Germany modified the Focke Wulf 200 Condor during World War II from an airliner to a naval patrol plane with successful results. Perhaps an even greater conversion was that of the Douglas DC-3 from a civilian airliner to that of a military cargo and troop carrier aircraft. The Douglas military aircraft was designated the C-47. The C-47 was used successfully in all theaters of World War II, and served in both Korea and Viet Nam as well. Though the P-8 is based on the Boeing 737 jetliner airframe, it does not use the 737 MAX airframe, in use on current production jetliner. The Poseidon uses an earlier variant of the 737 airframe, known as the Next Generation, or 737 NG. The NG version was selected due largely to the fact some 7,000 NGs have been produced, giving the P-8 an existing logistics network around the world, though military orders are currently driving the 737 NG. The P-8 has an active multi-static and passive acoustic sensor system, a new electro-optical/infrared sensor, inverse synthetic aperture radar, as well as a new electronic support measures system. The P-8 has a nine-person crew, consisting of dual pilots, and a five mission crew in addition to a relief pilot and an in-flight technician. The P-8 has workstations with universal multi-function displays and can acommodate additional workstations and workload sharing.
The P-8 features the Raytheon APY-10 multi-mission surface search radar. It also features an international version of the APY-10. A short bomb bay for torpedoes and other weapons opens behind the wing. The Poseidon also includes six additional body fuel tanks for extended range from Marshall Aerospace, with three of the tanks located in the forward cargo compartment and three in the rear. The P-8 is also capable of in-flight refueling. This is done through a receptacle on top of the forward fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. The fuel receptacle will receive a flying boom that is typically used to refuel United States Air Force planes, as opposed to the hose-and-drogue system used by other US Navy aircraft. The P-8 incorporates an integrated sensor suite that includes radar, electro-optical (EO), and electronic signal detection sensors to detect, identify, locate, and track surface targets. An integrated acoustic sonobuoy launch and monitoring system detects, identifies, locates, and tracks submarine targets. Poseidons are armed with MK 54 torpedoes, as well as the Harpoon missile system to engage identified submarine and surface targets. The P-8 is also capable of dropping bombs and mines. The Poseidon can launch and control Triton drones, with sensors providing external tactical situational awareness information for dissemination to the fleet and for exploitation by the joint intelligence committee.
The Poseidon offers a greater performance envelope than the P-3, with the P-8 capable of an altitude of 41,000 ft., as opposed to 28,300 ft. for the Orion. The P-8 is also faster than the P-3, with a top speed of 565 mph. compared to 473 mph. for the P-3. The cruising speed of the Poseidon is 509 mph., while that of the Orion is 405 mph. The P-8 also has a ferry range of 5,200 miles compared to 2,270 for the P-3. The Poseidon has an unrefueled patrol range of 1,200 nm. with four hours time on station, while the Orion has a patrol range of 845 nm. with three hours time on station. The Poseidon can stay aloft for 20 hrs., the Orion at a maximum time of 14 hrs. The P-8 also has the advantage of aerial refueling. For all of its performance, the Poseidon is a more fuel efficient aircraft than the Orion.
A proposed winged MK 54 torpedo, designated the HAAWC, is a glider torpedo, guided by gps, which can be launched from altitudes just over 30,000 ft., up to distances of 40 miles away from a target. While the HAAWC is still under development, it demonstrates the capability of the Poseidon as a dedicated weapons platform. The P-8 is truly a multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft, unrivalled at anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, in addition to search and rescue. The faster speed of the P-8 means less transit time to intercept both submarines and surface combatants. The Poseidon can also conduct low altitude missions, supporting a number of humanitarian search and rescue efforts. As of this writing, there are at least 155 P-8s in service globally. During the nine years it has been in service, the P-8 has logged more than 500,000 flight hours without incident-not a bad record for a military plane.