The Pentagon’s top acquisition chief defended the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft, after a House Armed Services Committee member asked about a report that calls the program “not effective for executing the full range of mission tasks required.”

In a Tuesday morning hearing, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) asked why the Defense Department allowed the Navy and contractor Boeing [BA] to move to full-rate production when the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation found the program to have so many deficiencies.

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

The report states that the P-8 proved effective in testing against surface warfare targets but not effective for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions because of the combination of sensors currently onboard. The platform’s primary mission, anti-submarine warfare, can only be performed in small areas with less stressing targets, the report says, due to limitations in the plane’s sensors. The report calls the system “operationally suitable” in that it improves upon the legacy P-3’s hardware reliability, maintainability and availability, but the report adds that “frequent mission software faults” indicate the need for improvement.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall responded to Speier’s question, saying that the program was meant to be incremental from the start, and that the deficiencies referred to capabilities that would be added in later increments.

“The things that we did put in are working as expected, they’re doing what we want them to do,” he said, calling P-8A a “relatively successful program despite the tone of the report.”

“So you just dispute the report outright?” Speier asked.

“The report is factually correct, but it doesn’t acknowledge that it was the plan,” Kendall responded. “The plan was to develop a certain set and field a certain set of initial capabilities for local anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and then add capabilities to that in later increments.”

Kendall added that later increments would expand the area of coverage and add increased computing power, among other things. The first increment of the aircraft, a modified Boeing 737, essentially replaces the capability found in the P-3, which will soon hit the end of its expected service life. Increment 2 will include upgrades such as multi-static active coherent acoustics, automated identification system, and high-altitude anti-submarine warfare weapon capability.

Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey said Tuesday that “that rating in the report is based on their testing done a year ago” with early versions of the plane’s software. Since the testing–from September 2012 through March 2013–Boeing has made several software updates and upgrades.

Ramey added that the P-8 program is on-cost and on-schedule, with Lots 1 and 2 having delivered to the Navy already–13 planes total–and Lot 3 set to begin production this year. Increment 2 of the aircraft is set for fielding in 2016, he said, which will add the capabilities the report notes are lacking from today’s aircraft.

Asked about the origins of Speier’s concerns regarding P-8, her spokesman, Bill Silverfarb, said that she “is generally concerned about instances where testing reports are ignored and the Department deciding to go into full-rate production with immature, unproven systems, and the P-8 program appears to be another example that would benefit from congressional oversight.”