Boeing [BA] officials believe the work the company has put into development of the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon sub hunting aircraft could translate directly to a cost-efficient, highly capable solution for the Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) replacement.

While the P-8 is primarily a sub hunter, it also is a highly capable system truck that can perform aerial targeting of surface vessels, aircraft and battle network command-and-control missions, said Fred Smith, director, global sales and marketing for Boeing Maritime Surveillance & Engagement.

Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft. Photo. U.S. Navy
Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft. Photo. U.S. Navy

“We’ve got a lot invested in this airplane, the U.S. government has a lot invested in this airplane,” Smith said on May 11 at Boeing’s Arlington, Va., offices.

The Air Force’s legacy JSTARS is a modified Boeing 707-300, but other companies have pitched business jets as replacements that could carry the necessary mission systems with a smaller crew and use less fuel at longer ranges.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] is offering a Bombardier airframe while Northrop Grumman [NOC] is teaming with Gulfstream, a division of General Dynamics [GD], and L-3 Communications [LLL].

With aerial refueling, the P-8 can stay on station for more than 20 hours. It also features wing and underbelly hardpoints that can accept weapons or mission pods and has defensive infrared countermeasures and several hundred communication and transmission antennas, Smith said.

“That, we believe, positions us well for any of the 707 recaps in the C2/ISR fleet for the Air Force,” he said. “All that engineering has been done. All that engineering has been paid for by the U.S. government. It’s just a matter of reusing that engineering on the 707 recap fleet.”

Boeing is marketing the U.S. P-8 as a multi-mission command-and-control, communication and targeting aircraft to international customers who either do not want or cannot afford multiple, service-specific fleets of C2/ISR jets, Smith said.

“You can take this one airplane and put a lot of capability on it and fly a lot of missions simultaneously,” he said. “There’s no reason why you can’t conduct these other missions…while you are out there doing anti-submarine warfare. No reason why you can’t fly this aircraft over land. The fact that it has a lot of speed and altitude would indicate that it would be a great airplane to fly over land and do those multiple missions.”

Boeing built into the P-8 significant growth potential in size, weight, power and cooling (SWAPC) so that new systems could be added for future missions and as technology progresses, Smith said.

The aircraft includes 200 cubic feet of reserve cargo space and the potential for a 25 percent increase in required cool and 60 percent excess power generation. Each of the P-8’s two engines are equipped with a 180 kilovolt amp (kVA) generator for a total 360 kVA, allowing for mission systems to run on a single generator.

With the auxiliary power unit on the tail, “there is a significant amount of power on that airplane that can power basically any system that you want to put on it. And, of course it is aerial-refueling capable.”

Smith said the Air Force will have to settle the argument over whether a commercial airliner is too large for its JSTARS requirement, but the case for using the 737 is compelling.

“The bonus of this aircraft is you build on the commercial-like reliability and supportability of the 737,” which at 9,000-plus airframes is the world’s most prolific, Smith said. Another 13,000 737 airframes are on order.

The P-8 replaces the P-3 turboprop aircraft on missions to target surface and subsurface naval vessels at sea. It is capable of aerial command-and-control and standoff targeting and strike, as well.

Its primary mission is anti-submarine warfare, while “everything else is basically a subset of that mission,” he said.

The mission system was built with modular, open architecture software and hardware that allows for rapid reconfiguration and upgrades.

Boeing has established a roadmap to spiral in planned upgrades to the aircraft in successive increments. Increment 1, which was the configuration at initial operational capability (IOC) in 2013, was an overall performance and capability upgrade to the legacy P-3.

Increment 2 should begin fielding in the current fiscal year and introduces multi-static active coherent acoustic sensors, automated target identification system and high-altitude anti-submarine warfare weapon capability.

Increment three will incorporate software architecture improvements, ASW upgrades, a network-enabled air-launched weapon and new sensors.