Boeing demonstrates the multi-mission maritime aircraft; to start work now for 2013 delivery.
The Indian Navy, which aims to be the premier blue water force in the Indian Ocean region, needs to keep a year-round watch over some two million sq km of open sea, the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. In war, the area becomes larger. The aircraft that will perform this function in the decades to come, the P8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA), has made its first flight at a Boeing facility in Seattle, USA.
The state-of-the-art Poseidon will start being delivered to the navy from 2013, replacing its vintage fleet of Russian Tupolev-142M and Ilyushin-38 long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft. Boeing has developed the Poseidon as a replacement for the US Navy’s current maritime patrol aircraft, the P3C Orion. Early in the last decade, Washington tried hard to persuade New Delhi to buy the Orion.
The Pakistan Navy flies this aircraft; two of them were destroyed in May during the militant raid on a Pak naval base, PNS Mehran. But, in 2006, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) replied that the Orion was old technology; it would buy only the Poseidon, which the US had not sold to any other country. Washington, looking for a way to jump-start the defence relationship, acquiesced.
On January 1, 2009, the navy signed a contract for buying eight Poseidon MMA, with an option for four more. This will make it the first non-US operator of the Poseidon. The Poseidon built for the US Navy is designated the P8A; the Indian variant is the P8I (I for India). The utility of a maritime patrol aircraft like the Poseidon, which must dominate the ocean beyond the reach of shore-based radars, hinges upon how much time it can remain on patrol, and on its ability to detect and destroy enemy ships and submarines.
The old Indian Navy Tu-142Ms and IL-38s, dating back to the 1950s, had neither the reliability to remain on station beyond a few hours, nor the gadgetry and weaponry to intimidate the enemy.
In contrast, the Poseidon is internationally acknowledged as the benchmark in maritime patrol. It marries a tried and tested sensor and weapons suite with a specially developed Boeing 737 aircraft. Since reliability and endurance are crucial, it was logical to base the Poseidon on the world’s most widely flown airliner (a 737 lands or takes off somewhere in the world every three seconds). The Poseidon is a 737-800, specially modified with a 737-900 wing.
Boeing says it will comprehensively test the first P8I before handing it over to the Navy, which will do acceptance tests before taking delivery of the aircraft. The P-8I is built by a Boeing-led industry team that includes CFM International, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Spirit AeroSystems, BAE Systems and GE Aviation.
The CFM-56 engines that are standard fitment on recent 737s also power the Poseidon. These are modified with larger generators that churn out the power needed for the MMA’s sensors and control systems. In addition, there is an auxiliary power unit that provides electricity even when the main engines are switched off.
If the flying platform is completely new, the comprehensive suite of sensors and weapons it carries provides the Poseidon with tested strike power. The Navy has also instructed Boeing to install certain capabilities not provided for the P8A.
This includes ‘aft-looking radar’, custom-designed by US company Telefonic, which functions like an electronic rearview mirror, scanning the water behind the aircraft. There is also the high-power Raytheon forward-looking radar. The Poseidon has the capability of dropping sonobuoys, which pick up sonar signals from enemy submarines and transmit these to the aircraft.
Unlike a civilian 737, the Poseidon is armed to the teeth. It has 11 ‘hard points’, or weapons stations: Two under each wing for depth bombs or Harpoon anti-ship missiles; five stations inside the weapons bay for torpedoes that cannot be slung outside, since they must be kept warm; and two hard points up front for combat search and rescue equipment or for additional depth bombs.
A team of Indian Navy officers, including the chief aviator, Rear Admiral D M Sudan, witnessed the 150-minute flight in Seattle. Boeing test pilots took the aircraft up to 41,000 ft. Boeing says the coming weeks will see “mission systems installation and checkout work” on the P8I Poseidon.
“The P-8I program is progressing well and we are looking forward to this potent platform joining the Indian Navy as part of its fleet,” said Sudan. Boeing says it will comprehensively test the first P8I before handing it over to the Navy, which will do acceptance tests before taking delivery of the aircraft. The P-8I is built by a Boeing-led industry team that includes CFM International, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Spirit AeroSystems, BAE Systems and GE Aviation.