Monday, September 24, 2012

Today's Reading Assignment


A Navy P-8 Poseidon in flight.  Program delays and the threat of sequestration could create more difficulties for the new ASW aircraft, leaving the Navy with inadequate airborne resources for detecting, tracking and attacking enemy subs (Wikipedia photo).    

An excellent post at The NavLog, on the Navy's troubled P-8 ASW aircraft.  The service is moving forward with long-standing plans to replace what's left of its P-3 Orion fleet with the next-generation ASW airframe, based on the Boeing 737-800.  But, as the author observes, successful implementation of the P-8 depends on technology that is inmature (at best), and on a planned aircraft "buy" that is inadequate for the mission:

We recently attended a briefing on the Navy’s new P-8 Poseidon aircraft, the replacement for the P-3C Orion. The short version is that it is not working out as hoped and that US Navy airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is in jeopardy.

[snip]

{the} Boeing P-8 was conceived as a 156-airframe replacement for the already dwindling number of P-3s, a number of P-8s then reduced to 108 aircraft, to be augmented by dedicated UAVs and UCAVs for persistent surveillance over-ocean missions. The P-3’s 330 knot enroute speed would be substantially increased to over 500 knots with the P-8, meaning a faster arrival on station. Since a jet burns far more fuel per mile than a turboprop, the P-3’s low-level endurance was to be sacrificed by a never before tried high-altitude precision ASW at or above 20,000 feet, meaning abandonment of what had been traditional low-level tracking of and attack upon a submarine. Torpedoes dropped from 200-500 feet will now become glide-bombs: torpedoes with wings dropped from 20,000 feet to somehow reach a fleeing submarine before it's long gone. The P-8s MAD boom was summarily dispatched. To those of us with real world ASW experience, the picture was questionable and depended upon no yet developed new ASW techniques and technology.

At the recent brief we were instructed about new, smaller, light-weight sonobouys equipped with GPS that will be launched from rotary launchers aboard the P-8. This is aimed at plot stabilization, or plotstab, a critical element in ASW. A submarine or surface contact is positioned with respect to the sono pattern dropped. Unless you know where your bouys are, you can’t know where your target is. The GPS-broadcasting bouys are meant to align target location with the real world. This will be especially tough because the P-8 is meant to stay above 20,000 feet. This altitude restriction is imposed for several reasons, but we were informed it is primarily because the P-8s planned onsta performance is not even close to what the Boeing and Navy engineers estimated, and is, in fact perhaps four hours, or about half that of the P-3 or even the P-2

And unfortunately, the problems don't end there.  While the Navy plans to field 12 P-8 squadrons, each unit will have only six assigned aircraft.  Do the math, and you'll discover that our "new" ASW fleet will consist of only 72 aircraft, along with a smaller number of P-3s that will be re-winged to extend their service life.  Once upon a time, the Navy had more than 400 Orions, with most devoted to the ASW mission.  True, those numbers existed during the heyday of the Soviet Navy, but it's worth noting that many countries are now building or purchasing quiet diesel submarines, so the threat is steadily increasing.  And, when you consider the P-8 won't the endurance of its predecessors, it's clear the Navy won't have enough of the new ASW jets for the mission.

As we've noted in the past, the ASW mission was largely ignored after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.  Making matters worse, the Navy wasted years of development time (and millions of dollars) on the "first" Orion replacement, the Lockheed P-7, which was scrapped in the 1980s.  Meanwhile, the service was flying the wings off its remaining P-3s (quite literally) by reassigning the aircraft for overland missions in places like Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

One more thing: as The NavLog observes, lead-in training for a new P-8 crew member will be an "astounding" 15 months, so the Navy will be hard-pressed to meet its goal of geting the first squadron operational in 2013.  And no one wants to predict the potential impact of sequestration on the Poseidon.  If the P-8 doesn't survive under sequestration, then we'll be left with a dwindling number of deteriorating P-3s, and no replacement in sight--truly, the worst case scenario.

But that's just the tip of the fiscal iceberg.  Multiply this sort of program cancellation across the services, and you'll have a good idea of what our military may look like in the years to come.      

2 comments:

Ed Bonderenka said...

Wow.

Old NFO said...

Additionally, it was a 'political' sop to Boeing... And PMA 290 was told to shut up, drink the koolaid and say it was the greatest thing since sliced bread... sigh