Boeing [BA] is developing a multi-mission pod for its P-8 Poseidon aircraft used by the Navy to hunt submarines, a company official said March 3.
The company is using internal research and development money to fund the pod, which would combine communications intelligence, signals intelligence and other capabilities, said Fred Smith, director for global sales and marketing,
“We have some interest from some of our international customers for that type of a pod,” he told reporters during a tour of a P-8 aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle. The visit was part of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to the West Coast last week, which included stops in Silicon Valley and meetings with firms such as Boeing, Amazon [AMZN] and Microsoft [MSFT] in Washington state.
The multi-mission pod was developed specifically for the Poseidon, which is replacing the Navy’s fleet of P-3 Orion aircraft made by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. Boeing has finished building the first pod and had conducted two flight tests—including one at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s electronic warfare range, Smith said. “Tests are very promising.”
Smith offered few details on the new system but confirmed that communications and intelligence technologies from Boeing subsidiary Argon ST’s Lighthouse product line will be integrated on the pod.
“We are putting a similar [Argon] system on the pod that is on the EP-3,” he said, referencing the signals reconnaissance version of the P-3. The pod will also be somewhat modular, allowing users to take off capabilities and add other systems.
The service has conducted four deployments and flown more than 50,000 flight hours with its current fleet of 35 P-8s, Smith said.
Boeing has also been pushing for international sales that would widen its customer base and drive down costs for the U.S. Navy. The company delivered eight aircraft to India’s navy and expects the country to exercise options for an additional four planes this year. The Royal Australian Air Force has agreed to purchase eight aircraft and could buy up to 15, according to the country’s 2016 Defence White Paper. The United Kingdom announced in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review that it intends to buy nine P-8s.
Besides those nations, “we do have some new potential customers,” said Smith, who declined to get into specifics.
International sales could drive up the current production rate of 1.5 aircraft per month, he added. “We may go to two per month, but the sweet spot is roughly one and a half to two per month. We could do more in this production facility, but you want to keep a nice, even flow.”