P-8I on schedule to provide Indian Navy unmatched maritime surveillance skills
Seattle: As one enters Boeing’s P-8 Mission Systems Installation and Checkout facility in Seattle, the stubby and purposeful lines of what appear to be a line of gleaming white Boeing 737 New Generation (NG) aircraft appear. This is no ordinary 737 NG, and the aircraft bearing tail number 321 signifies that it is the Indian Navies (IN) second P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR). It is undergoing mission systems installation alongside P-8A ‘Poseidon’ aircraft made for the US Navy. The induction of the P-8I next year by the Indian Navy will be game-changer in the region, providing it with the most advanced maritime surveillance platform available today. Its US Navy counterpart called the ‘Poseidon’ will go on to replace the highly acclaimed Lockheed P-3C Orion. India will induct her first P-8I aircraft just a year after the US Navy takes delivery of its first aircraft (only two have been delivered to the US Navy till date).
The status of the P-8I programme was provided by Leland Wight, program manager, Boeing P-8I and Carl Lang, program manager, BCA P-8I. Currently, the IN has on order eight P-8I aircraft with options for another four. The deliveries are scheduled to begin from May next year, with three aircraft to be delivered in that year itself. The first P-8I (tail no. 320) will be handed over to the IN in Seattle in the fourth quarter and after further tests will be flown to India. The first P-8I took to the air in September last year and is now undergoing flight tests with mission systems installed. It will then move onto weapons testing with inert stores for carriage. Separation trials will begin in September this year.
The weapons and mission systems checks are planned for a three-month duration. During these tests Boeing will measure the loads and aerodynamic performance of the weapons. The mission systems of the second P-8I are being installed at the Boeing facility in Seattle while the fuselage fabrication of the third P-8I is underway with final assembly to take place in the third quarter of this year. The first flight of the third P-8I for the IN will take place in the fourth quarter of this year. The training of air crew, mission systems and maintenance personnel will begin in 2013. Boeing says that courseware for training is getting ready and will be sent to Indian Navy after which the crew will be selected. Technical publications are on plan and software development is also going smoothly. While the IN had not asked for air-to-air refueling, Boeing has retained the Universal Aerial Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installations (UARRSI) on the P-8I. This would enable the P-8I to take on fuel from a boom tanker. The Indian Air Force (IAF) which possesses the IL-78 ‘Midas’ tankers, on the other hand, uses the hose and drogue technique for refueling in mid air. The P-8I has an unrefueled radius of action of 1,200 miles with a time on station of four hours. This exceeds the IN requirement in the Request for Proposal (RFP) that asked for a radius of action of 600 miles with a time on station of six hours.
The P-8I features state-of-the-art Raytheon APY-10 maritime surveillance radars. The first international version of this radar was delivered to Boeing in February this year for installation on the P-8I. Based on requirements stated by the IN, the radar has special features such as an air-to-air mode and allowing detection of airborne and seaborne threats. The radar will also feature interleaved weather and surface search capability that will provide the pilot in the cockpit with up-to-date weather avoidance information while performing surveillance missions. While the forward radar will have a 240 degree field of regard, Boeing selected the Telephonics APS 143 C(V)3 ‘OceanEye’ to cater for the IN’s requirement for aft facing radar which provides coverage of 120 degrees. The aft radar and Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) are the two significant changes present in the P-8I and are not incorporated on P-8A aircraft. The ‘OceanEye’ has a maximum range of over 200 nmi, display range resolution of 0.01 nmi and Mean Time between Failure (MTBF) of 1400 hours for fixed wing platforms.
The choice of all systems aboard the P-8I was made by Boeing with the exception of five nominated pieces of equipment and suppliers which were made by the IN. These were meant for indigenous equipment such as the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Interrogator, Data Link 2 and fingerprinting system all manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Mobile Satellite System made by Avantel, and IFF transponder made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). These systems have been integrated on the aircraft. Each of these systems was built with test software certified by Center for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) that accurately represents the software that will run in India. Boeing will verify the test software in Seattle during tests and when the aircraft travels to India, the test software will be replaced with the actual software. Boeing will get no insight into this equipment as a result. Over time part of the Electronic Support Measure (ESM) equipment built by Northrop Grumman will be done by BEL. Other equipments that will be supplied by Indian companies will include Speech Secrecy system by Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), power and mission equipment cabinets by Dynamatics, Weapons Bay doors and composite tail done by HAL, and Auxiliary Power Units (APU) Door Fairings and Radome by TATA. Indian suppliers are also being looked at for P-8 Wire assemblies, P-8I Manual Printing, Cabinet Mechanical Assembly, and 737 NG Batteries. Ground support equipment such as power cart, compressor cart, tow vehicle, etc, will be supplied by Coimbatore based AIR+MAK.
The P-8I will be equipped with three major weapons comprising the AGM-84L HARPOON Block II Missiles, MK-54 Lightweight Torpedoes and MK 82 Depth Charges. The Indian Navy has ordered 21 of the missiles, 5 ATM-84L HARPOON Block II Training Missiles, Captive Air Training Missiles and other related elements of logistics support at an estimated cost of USD200 million along with 32 MK-54 All-Up-Round Lightweight Torpedoes, three recoverable exercise torpedoes, one training shape and support and logistics equipment at an estimated cost of USD86 million. The MK 54 Lightweight Torpedo is the primary Anti-Submarine Warfare weapon used by American surface ships, fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters. These weapons were ordered as stand-alone Foreign Military Sales (FMS) with the US Navy. Boeing will integrate the weapons during the testing and demonstrate safe and satisfactory carriage and separation of the weapons. The Harpoon will be released without the igniter or any ordinance during tests in the US. Live firing of ordinance will only take place once the P-8I arrives in India.
An interesting aspect of the P-8 programme is its manufacturing process which sees a commercial and military variant in the same assembly plant on separate lines. Spirit Aero Systems in Wichita, Kansas, supplies the fuselage to Boeing’s Renton factory where the P-8 is custom-made for its mission. Additions such as the weapon bay and doors, communication racks, wing pylons and engines are installed. This is possible due to a USD6 billion investment made by the Department of Defence (DoD) that allows the civilian and military aircraft to be made side by side. Previously, the civilian aircraft was completed and then taken apart to reinstall mission systems, weapons bays, wiring etc. for the military variants. This turned out to be a costly and inefficient system. The new method of manufacture allows the military customer to benefit from increased economies of scale and results in a better and more robust aircraft. While there is a difference of 60-70 per cent during construction, on completion there is an 80 per cent commonality with the civilian 737 NG, and many of the common maintenance items are same as the commercial variant.
The long-suffering Naval Air Arm has had to put up with the extremely poor serviceability of its now obsolescent IL-38 SD and TU-142 ME maritime surveillance assets. With the P-8I all ready, a new era will be ushered in. The Indian Navy would be eagerly looking forward to the P-8I which will offer the Naval Air Arm a truly potent maritime asset that features a state-of-the-art weapons and sensor fit, offers high on tarmac availability along with modern training and maintenance assets.
US Navy Boeing P-8 A ‘Poseidon’ Programme
• On contract with the US Navy for 13 aircraft and programme of record for 117 P-8As
• So far, eight aircrafts have been delivered along with two production examples
• The first production, P-8A, was delivered to the US Navy on 4 March, 2012 and the second on 17 July, 2012
• Patrol Squadron Sixteen (VP 16) will be the transition squadron for the type
• Six P-8As will be delivered to the US Navy by the time India gets her first P-8I
• US Navy expected to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by the end of 2013 when the first squadron is deployed operationally
Boeing pitches P-8 variant for MRMR contract for Indian Navy
Boeing officials told FORCE that a variant of the P-8 would best fit the requirement for eight Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR), being looked at by the Indian Navy. It would be the best as the Request for Information (RFI) specifically asked for weapons to be carried on the MRMR. Boeing has responded to the RFI with a P-8 variant and has said that once the RFP is out, it will respond with a proposal featuring the required mission set required. Boeing says that there is a significant synergy in operating a single type model aircraft such as P-8 for the Navy’s LRMR and MRMR requirements, with regards to sustainment, support and operational capability, common crew training and facilities. However, the operating costs of a 737 variant, such as the P-8, would be greater than a smaller business jet/commuter jet with either turboprop or turbofan engines as being offered by other competitors for the MRMR bid.
Keeping that in mind, it is a good idea that Boeing has announced a new Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) at the Farnborough air show this year. The MSA will have a P-8 mission system ported to a smaller mid-size aircraft. Boeing officials confirmed to FORCE that it would be based on a twin-engine mid-size business jet powered by turbofan engines. Boeing is in final negotiations with the aircraft manufacturer and will announce the selected type by the end of this year.
However, the MSA will not be weaponised and thus, cannot be used for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) or provide the breadth of capability that the P-8 series offers. Boeing believes that the Indian Navy will require at least 20-30 aircraft spread across both the LRMR and MRMR, keeping in mind India’s vast coastline and capability of potential adversaries. Company officials expressed confidence that the Indian Navy would exercise options for four more P-8I aircraft, taking total orders to 12.