The story of the P-8 started in the 1980s when the US Navy wanted an aircraft that could replace Lockheed’s P-3 Orion. As this airframe was progressively updated, its range decreased – a real problem for an aircraft tasked with flying across thousands of miles of ocean.
Boeing P-8 Poseidon
The Boeing P-8 Poseidon is an American maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft developed and produced by Boeing Defense, Space & Security, modified from the 737-800ERX. It was developed for the United States Navy (USN).
The P-8 operates in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles. It is armed with torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and other weapons, can drop and monitor sonobuoys, and can operate in conjunction with other assets, including the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The P-8 is operated by the United States Navy, the Indian Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. It has also been ordered by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Republic of Korea Navy, and the German Navy.
The Lockheed P-3 Orion, a turboprop ASW aircraft, has been in service with the United States Navy (USN) since 1962. In the 1980s, the USN began studies for a P-3 replacement, the range and endurance of which were reduced due to increasing weight and airframe fatigue life limitations. The specification required a new aircraft to have reduced operating and support costs. In 1989, Lockheed was awarded a fixed-price contract to develop the P-7, but this was canceled the following year.
In 2000, a second competition for a replacement began. Lockheed Martin submitted the Orion 21, an updated new-build version of the P-3. Boeing’s proposal was based on its 737-800 airliner. BAE Systems offered a new-build version of the Nimrod MRA4, a British jet-powered maritime patrol aircraft. BAE withdrew from the competition in October 2002, recognizing that without a production partner based in the United States, the bid was politically unrealistic. On 14 May 2004, Boeing was selected as the winner of the Multimission Maritime Aircraft program.
In June 2004, the USN awarded a development contract to Boeing. The project was planned to be for at least 108 airframes for the USN. More orders are possible from the other nations operating over 200 P-3s. Project value is expected to be worth at least $15 billion. Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Spirit AeroSystems, GE Aviation Systems, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, CFM International, BAE Systems, and Marotta are major subcontractors. In July 2004, the USN placed an order for five aircraft, and the first flight-test aircraft was to be completed in 2009. On 30 March 2005, it was assigned the P-8A designation.