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Is Saudi Arabia next for the Poseidon adventure?

Posted 25 January 2010 · Add Comment

Saudi Arabia could be in the market for the submarine-buster, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. We look at what the Kingdom could get for its money.

 

Boeing has orders for the P-8 Poseidon already ‘in the bag’ from the US Navy and India, and Australia is participating in the development programme but has not yet committed to purchase the aircraft

The company is now turning its attentions to further potential customers – most of them currently operating the P-3 Orion. But the most likely next customer, according to programme insiders, is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Boeing P-8 is the US Navy’s newest maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft and 117 are expected to be ordered to replace the US Navy’s Lockheed P-3 Orions, with at least eight more going to the Indian Navy.

The P-8 is a military derivative version of the next-generation 737-800, with a strengthened fuselage, a wing based on that of the 737-900, and raked wingtips like those on the Model 767-400ER, instead of the blended winglets available on 737NG variants. Boeing is using the P-8A programme to establish best practices for the use of commercial airplane platforms, production processes, and capabilities on its military products.

The aircraft carries six additional fuselage fuel tanks, manufactured by Marshall Aerospace, three in the forward cargo compartment and three in the rear, for extended range. It has an open architecture mission system based on that developed by Boeing for the UK’s Nimrod MRA Mk 4 programme, and thus now extensively ‘derisked’ on that aircraft.

The primary sensors are a new AN/APY-10 radar developed for the P-8A, advanced ESM, and acoustics. The aircraft can then engage targets using SLAM-ER missiles or Lockheed Mk 54 Longshot torpedoes, optimized for dropping from medium level, and developed under the High Altitude ASW Weapons Concept (HAAWC) programme. As a result, Boeing claims that the P-8A is “the world’s most advanced long-range maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft”.

As such, the type has already attracted interest from a number of the world’s leading naval air arms, including Saudi Arabia’s, where any P-8 acquisition would form part of a planned major naval modernisation programme, made possible by the recent spike in oil prices, and necessitated by continuing regional tension, not least over Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Saudi Arabia’s defence spending totalled $36bn by the end of last year, and the proposed naval modernisation may eventually be worth as more than $20bn.

Saudi Arabia has asked the US Defense Security Co-operation Agency to assist in formulating and structuring the modernization programme, which will include the procurement of new ships (smaller combat ships from Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics) and a range of maritime aviation assets.

It is believed that Saudi Arabia has a requirement for six P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, worth a reported US $1.3 billion, and that these aircraft would be augmented by purchases of Sikorsky SH-60R Seahawk multi-mission helicopters and Northrop Grumman Fire Scout unmanned helicopters.

Saudi interest in the P-8 was revealed when Boeing advertised for a “VP for business development in Riyadh”, including the type in the list of systems that the company would be marketing to the kingdom!

Saudi Arabia is merely at the leading edge of a major defence modernization effort in the Gulf region and Boeing has hinted that it could see other states in the area acquiring P-8As, though none operate equivalent types at the moment.

The first three ‘flight test’ P-8s are now flying in support of the company’s development programme and Boeing has completed static and fatigue test examples. Three further production representative test aircraft are taking shape on the dedicated new ITAR-compliant production line at Renton, where wings, empennages and engines are mated to fuselage sections shipped in from Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas.

The baseline ‘Increment 1’ P-8 is expected to enter service in 2013, with Increment 2 aircraft (incorporating ‘Spiral 1’ capability enhancements) following in 2015, and the planned full standard Increment 3 aircraft, with ‘Spiral 2’ in 2018.

 

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