The aircrew provided local media with an overview of the P8-A Poseidon’s capability and an up-close look at the aircraft’s technical and environmental upgrades during a static tour on the flight line.
Rear Adm. Sean Buck, Commander, Patrol Reconnaissance Group, Norfolk, Va., provided a program update on the P-8 replacement aircraft for the aging P-3 Orion, during a scheduled press conference. He was accompanied by Cmdr. Molly Boron, Commanding officer, VP-16’s “War Eagles;” Capt. Sean Liedman, Naval Operations Air Warfare requirements officer; and Captain Scott Dillon, program manager, Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft program office, known as PMA-290, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
“My job is to ensure training and readiness of all Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance aviation forces,” said Buck. Those forces are comprised of 7000 dedicated men and women who fly the P-3C Orion, EP-3 Aries II, and now the P-8A Poseidon aircraft. I’ve spent the majority of my 30 years in the Navy flying P-3C Orions. My dad flew its predecessor, the P-2 Neptune for 30 years, and now I have a son who is a lieutenant in the Navy who currently flies P3-C Orions and P-8A Poseidons. So you could say that Maritime aviation is in my blood,” said Buck.
Buck said that the main objective during the transition period is to train the Patrol Squadrons’ fleet to three primary core war fighting missions: anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. “The mission of training of a squadron for over a year is to be combat-ready. And those three mission sets as well have some subsets which include search and rescue, humanitarian assistance or disaster relief.”
Boron further discussed the P-8’s capabilities and how the aircrew will benefit from the new platform during the squadron’s Dec. 2013 Western Pacific deployment to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.
“The mission will pretty much be the same as the WESTPAC we went on last year,” said Boron. “We’ll deploy with six aircraft and 12 combat aircrews performing those three mission sets in ASW and ISR. Also, I would say that crew comfort has vastly improved,” said Boron, referring the P-8s’ crew cabin air conditioning system. “It is more reliable and works extremely well. Also, the aircraft wings are more flexible, so the crew members aren’t getting bounced around quite as much as they used to in the P-3. It flies very smooth, down low.”
Boron praised the significantly improved safety and situational awareness provided through new sensors on the aircraft. The pilots now have a heads-up display like a tactical aircraft jet, which didn’t exist in the P-3. The Poseidon also now has a ground proximity warning system and an airborne Traffic Collision Alerting System to keep aware of other aircraft flying nearby.
Boron noted that all of the VP-16 squadron members have spent some time as P-3 aircrew. “All of them are very experienced folks we took through the transition and they have done exceptionally well. But the plane is very friendly to aircrew,” added Boron.
The P-8A streamlined mission systems include dual display screens at five operator stations – two acoustic stations, one non-acoustic station, one tactical-coordination station and one combined navigation and communications station.
“It has a ‘gamer’ environment that is user-friendly for our younger Sailors,” said Aviation Maintenance Chief Petty Officer Carlos Ure, VP-16 maintenance control superintendent. “The P-8A stations are completely interchangeable with respect to data. Also, an operator can sit at any of the five stations and operate any system,” added Ure, a 14-year veteran in the aviation community.
All of the squadron’s air crewmen are Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization-qualified in the aircraft. The maintenance department gets certified to maintain the aircraft at the same time. After a six-month transition to become NATOPS qualified, the aircrew is then given a year to learn how to fight the aircraft.
“When I first started this journey there were 24 active duty operational squadrons and we had a complement of over 240 aircraft in the fleet,” said Rear. Adm. Buck. “Today that force consists of 12 active duty VP Squadrons, with fewer than 85 aircraft available for the flight line. With Orion recently celebrating its’ 50th anniversary, the average P-3 serving in the fleet has logged more than 17,000 flight hours. One aircraft in particular, bureau number 158919, that we’ve nicknamed ‘Nine-Inch Nails,’ has flown over 26,000 flight hours.”
Both of these numbers significantly exceed the original design life of the aircraft. Substantial structural repairs to the aircraft wings have been required over the years to achieve this longevity.
Over the past year the squadron has flown the aircraft in a wide variety of operational environments and mission scenarios. Buck said that by all accounts the aircraft is performing very well.
“We’ve executed detachments from Australia, Hawaii, Guam, Japan, Alaska and Scotland; and successfully deployed the aircraft against difficult U.S. and allied submarines, both nuclear and diesel. Many of these events were conducted in support of the P-8s initial operational test and evaluation period,” added Buck.
“On the initial operational deployment, the P-8 will be capable of carrying and employing the Mark 54 torpedo system for antisubmarine warfare,” noted Buck. It will also have the AGM-84 Harpoon 4 Firing Missile System. The P-8 will bring the same capabilities as the P-3, with enhanced sensors and a much broader capability to send and absorb information to improve situational awareness.
Buck said there have been other significant improvements from the P-3 to the P-8.
“I would say there has been a significant bump in reliability of the overall aircraft system. In particular, the P-8s’ advancements allow a broader area search capability. It can cover a greater body of water during an ASW search as well as to get to and from the on-stationary much quicker because her dash-speed and to climb and perform is better than a turbo prop aircraft. We fly this aircraft with the Mark 54 torpedo system in a very similar war-fighting profile as the P-3 does,” added Buck. “And that performance right now is going very well.”
Boron currently has two jets in her custody. VP-16 will receive the remainder of their complement of deploying aircraft throughout this year. The second fleet squadron, VP-5, the Mad Foxes of NAS Jacksonville, will commence P-8 transition for Navy Region Southeast. The third squadron, VP-45, will commence transition in June of this year after returning from a deployment in the Western Pacific. To date, VP-16 has executed more than 6,600 flight hours in the P-8 program during developmental and operational testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, as well as concurrent fleet introduction at NAS Jacksonville, Fla.