With the first flight of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon test aircraft in April, the U.S. Navy moved closer to a modernized patrol fleet ready for net-centric warfare in open ocean and cluttered coastal environments.
Aircraft T2, the mission system flight-test aircraft, first flew June 5. Flight testing with the mission suite begins in early 2010. However, hardware and software for the former Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft were running in software, mission systems and weapon systems integration labs, and in a high-fidelity cockpit simulator at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems facilities around Kent, Wash.
The P-8 patrol platform will replace the worn P-3 Orion turboprop starting in 2013, bringing enhanced capabilities for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
"I do see us being able to cover more area," said Capt. Mike Moran, the Navy’s program manager. "The biggest bang for the buck is the integrated tactical picture, the situational awareness improvement that comes with the P-8 versus the P-3."
The Navy grounded about a quarter of its 157 P-3Cs in late 2007 pending wing replacements, and the service is managing P-3 flight hours and operational profiles carefully to stretch the fleet. Patrol squadrons with nine P-3s today will re-equip with six or seven P-8s.
"The availability of this new airplane will be far superior to what we see on the P-3s," explained Moran.
Given a P-8 full-rate production decision in May 2010, the Navy expects 108 Poseidons to replace the aged P-3 Orions altogether by 2019.
The P-8 is based on the commercial 737-800 airframe, powered by twin CFM 56-7 turbofans. It offers the Navy a reliable platform with higher performance than the P-3. "The big differential is that the airplane is a much more capable aircraft," said Fred Smith, Boeing senior manager for P-8 business development and a former P-3 wing commander. "It’s going to get you out there faster, fly higher, stay on station longer and handle a larger mission set."
The mission set for U.S. Navy patrol squadrons has grown from Blue Water, open ocean ASW and ASuW to include counter-terrorism, anti-piracy and disaster relief in the littoral regions where land and sea meet. With its own Mk. 54 torpedoes and SLAM-ER missiles, and with network access to joint forces firepower, the P-8 is meant to protect sea lines of communication and secure operating areas for Navy strike groups. In all of these scenarios, the Poseidon integrated mission system will pipe streaming video and other sensor data to battlegroup, landing force or ground commanders.
Most P-8 mission system software is re-used from previous applications to save development cost and time. Both software and hardware leverage open systems standards to accommodate planned improvements. P-8 Increment One achieves initial operational capability in July 2013 with baseline sonobuoys, radar, electro-optical (EO) sensors and electronic support measures (ESM). Increment Two around 2015 upgrades the ASW suite with multi-static buoys "pinging" and "listening" simultaneously. Increment Three around 2018 taps into the Global Information Grid via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet).
The P-8 is designed to traffic on- and off-board data. While the P-3 has dedicated sensor stations in different parts of the cabin, the Poseidon shares onboard sensor information and the Common Relevant Operational Picture (CROP) from Navy battle groups with the entire crew. Tactical workstations are connected by an Ethernet and video network. Sensor and navigation data travel via Mil-Std-1553B bus.
"Here, it’s a fully integrated weapon system," Moran noted. "The crew will be more able to rapidly respond to the information than before."
Five identical workstations aligned on one side of the cabin each have two stacked 24-inch multifunction displays. "The amount of data we can display is significant," said Moran. Operators may, for example, keep a geographic plot on the lower display and allocate the upper screen to the sensor in use. The Increment One P-8 also will enable operators to exercise Level II control over the sensors on unmanned aircraft systems.
The P-8 Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) managing the mission and the Co-TACCO handling communications can see the displays available to any of the enlisted sensor operators. "The Tactical Coordinator can set permissions on the system," Smith said. "Based on the experience of the operator, and the type of operator they are, the TACCO can dole out those permissions accordingly." He added, "Anyone can be at any station. Depending on the mission, you can configure the stations on-the-fly."
"Wet" acoustic and "dry" ESM, EO and radar operators can be mixed to suit the mission. Fleet users are considering how to cross train multi-sensor operators, but according to Moran, "The AW [Aviation Warfare Systems Operator] doing acoustics is not going away."
Up front, the P-8 cockpit builds on the cockpit of the modern 737 airliner, with flight and stores management systems developed by GE Aviation. Sensor information can be called up on three of the cockpit displays, and the pilot’s head-up display shows select mission information. "The pilots will have situational awareness in addition to having all the advantages of the commercial 737 cockpit," said Smith.
Mission Audio Panels in the cockpit, at each operator and observer station, and in the aft-cabin planning area enable any crewmember to access any radio. Like the P-3, the P-8 will have UHF, satcom and HF radios to send and receive information. Inmarsat, Link 16 and Common Data Link (CDL) capability are part of the baseline P-8. Increment Three adds robust SIPRNet capability to send tactical plots or other data to Navy Tactical Operations Centers (TOC) ashore and the Global Information Grid.
Northrop Grumman Information Technology, McLean, Va., is developing the P-8 datalinks, and by the time of a full-rate production decision, the P-8 team must demonstrate data exchange with other network-centric forces. According to Smith, "You’ll have a number of ways to share that information via satellite with just about anybody."
The primary mission of the Poseidon remains anti-submarine warfare, and the new patrol aircraft advances the automated detection capability of the P-3C Update III with a new Boeing USQ-78B acoustic processor. "From a software processing capability, it’s basically the same," said Moran. "I think the differences are we’re taking advantage of the additional processing power the P-8 brings to the acoustics piece and the display piece."
The processing and display power of the P-8 manages up to 64 passive buoys, twice the number available to the P-3 operator. It also handles up to 32 active-passive bi-static buoys, four times the capacity of the P-3C.
The software-defined sonobuoy radio on the P-8 provides access to more channels and mitigates interference in littoral environments. Significantly, the P-8 will perform real-time multi-static ASW, processing active and passive buoys concurrently. "When you do multi-static in the P-3, you can bang the buoys and listen or listen passively — it’s one or the other," Smith said.
The powerful acoustic capability eliminated the traditional Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) from the U.S. Navy P-8. A new-technology MAD will be integrated into the international P-8I ordered by India.
The Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems AN/APY-10 radar on the P-8 uses the same waveforms as the APS-137B on the P-3. With improved signal processing, it tracks more than 200 targets — twice as many as its Orion predecessor. The APY-10 uses a fast mechanically scanned antenna. According to Raytheon engineer Jim Champion, "That allows us to maximize the integration we get when we look at a target like a periscope. That gives us very good small-target detection capability in high sea states."
Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) modes use sea motion to "paint" ships with high resolution. Over land, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) uses aircraft motion to pick targets out of clutter. "The combination of those two modes in the littoral environment is very powerful," said Raytheon engineer Jay Ellis.
Compared to the APS-137, the APY-10 also trims the seven Weapons Replaceable Assemblies aboard the P-3 down to just five on the P-8 and reduces weight from 600 pounds to just 386 pounds, with reduced power requirements. "Its primarily just leveraging off the integrated circuit technology improvements," said Ellis. "We’ve been able to do a lot of processing today that took a lot more circuit chips." Mean Time Between Failure for the new radar is estimated to be four to five times better than the -137.
The L-3 Wescam MX-20HD electro-optical turret under the P-8 integrates 1080p (progressive scan) high-definition television with a mid-wave Forward Looking Infrared sensor optimized for the high-humidity, low visibility maritime environment. The 2 megapixel digital HD TV camera with continuous zoom can be slaved to the radar for wide-area search and yields far more image detail than analog sensors at about the same ranges. An integrated day spotter TV camera steps through four fields of view for longer ranges. The stabilized, 200-pound E/O payload has an embedded inertial measurement unit for high pointing accuracy, and with its own inertial navigation system needs no laser rangefinder to show precise target location.
The Northrop Grumman integrated electronic support measures on the P-8 also will be far more capable than ESM on the Orion. "This is an area that P-3 has not invested in as much in recent years," said Moran. The P-8 system borrows digital receiver technology from the AN/ALQ-218(V)2 on the EA-18G Growler to process higher pulse densities with greater sensitivity than the P-3 system. With five digital receivers and four sets of short and long baseline interferometers, the P-8 will cover a broad frequency range and geo-locate emitters instantly.
"The operator doesn’t have to initiate or do anything; it’s all automatic," said Moran. The ESM detects, identifies, and locates emitters for an advanced P-8 self-protection suite.
Portions of P-8 technology will be shared with the P-3 fleet to keep the Orions relevant until retirement. Multi-static ASW software, for example, will be shared across the fleet, and Inmarsat connectivity is going aboard some P-3s to reduce integration risk for the P-8.
Navy patrol wings today have Tactical Operations Centers linked to their aircraft and deploy mobile TOCs away from home base. The TOCs will be upgraded to be ready for the Poseidon. According to Moran, "Whatever we’re putting on P-3C, we’re in lock step with those guys to support P-8."
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