The U.S. Navy and its Poseidon industry team marked the beginning of the P-8A production last month at Spirit AeroSystems‘ [SPR] Wichita, Kan., the Navy said.

The P-8A is the first Navy aircraft to be produced on an existing commercial production line, the Navy said.

The P-8A fuselage, a derivative of Boeing‘s [BA] Next Generation 737-800, will be built at Spirit then shipped to Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Renton, Wash., for wing assemblies, the Navy added.

"It has been a long time coming, but the P-8A is a reality," Capt. Joe Rixey, Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft program manager, said. "I can’t be more proud of the partnership between the Navy and Poseidon industry team. They have worked hard to design an aircraft that will replace the legendary P-3C Orion and take our warfighters into the next generation of maritime patrol."

The team loaded the first P-8A fuselage component into a holding fixture on the factory floor during the ceremony attended by Navy program leadership, Spirit employees and representatives from Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, according to the Navy.

"Starting production of the first aircraft is a significant milestone for the P-8A program as we remain focused and committed to delivering this critical weapons system to the fleet on schedule," Capt. Mike Moran, P-8A Poseidon program lead, said.

The P-8A, designed to replace the Navy’s P-3C aircraft, is a long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance aircraft capable of broad-area maritime operations. It will be equipped with an advanced mission system designed for maximum interoperability in the future battle space. Initial operating capability is scheduled for 2013, with full operational capability planned for 2019, the Navy said.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] builds the P-3C.

According to the Navy, future budgeting for the P-8A calls for six aircraft in FY ’10, eight in FY ’11, 10 in FY ’12 and 13 in FY ’13.

Last month, the Navy grounded 39 P-3C aircraft due to structural fatigue concerns (Defense Daily, Dec. 18).