Boeing propose P-8A to replace E-8A

Boeing has proposed the P-8 Airborne Ground Surveillance (AGS) to replace the aging E-8A Joint STARS. Its pre-Paris media tour reached Seattle Wednesday, with a series of briefings that focused on the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon multi-role maritime aircraft – and its planned derivatives.

On the surface, Boeing is optimistic, listing opportunities to sell 150-plus more aircraft based on the 737 platform — comprising straightforward P-8s, versions of that design and 737 Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft. However, there are a couple of challenges.

The first is that the global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance market is trending smaller. Only India has bought a P-8-class aircraft in recent years, while ATR has been doing a small but lively business in CN-235 maritime developments. Boeing’s second challenge is that it needs to exploit the 737-base market quickly because — in the not-too-distant future — the 737 itself will be either drastically modernized or replaced, reducing a key advantage: the fact that the military 737s share a production and supply base with hundreds of 737s per year.

This explains why Boeing is making an aggressive pitch to the USAF to buy P-8A Airborne Ground Surveillance (AGS) variants rather than extending the life of its Northrop Grumman E-8A Joint STARS fleet. The USAF has an analysis of alternatives under way, with Northrop Grumman pushing a re-engined Joint STARS with a new radar antenna.

Boeing argues that P-8A AGS would have lower nonrecurring costs as well as be less expensive to operate and start with a zero-life airframe. Boeing argues that because of the age of the airframe and other factors, updating the E-8A would involve a $10-$15 billion non-recurring cost (a number that Northrop Grumman energetically disputes.)

The Boeing AGS proposal has its quirks. The company is proposing a minimum-change version of the P-8A — heavily reinforced low-altitude structure, weapons bay and pylons, maritime radar and all. (The biggest change would be the removal of the sonobuoy launchers.) Boeing argues that a weapons capability on the AGS would be useful, but it would be a change to USAF doctrine.

The oddest feature of the proposal, though, is that the main surveillance radar is unnamed, even though it is now clear what it is most likely to be. Company officials in Seattle Wednesday finally confirmed what we concluded here four years ago: That the P-8A was designed from the outset to carry a version of the then-classified Raytheon APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS), now in service on Navy P-3 Orions. That was why Boeing switched, late in the proposal stage, to a 737-800 fuselage with an aft weapons bay, and that is also why the design has an anomalous pair of hardpoints under the forward fuselage.



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