June 18, 2012
Credit: Credit: Boeing
A full-scale development program is underway to develop a version of the U. S. Navy's Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), fitted with a long-range, high-resolution surveillance radar. It could provide a ready-made, Navy-funded replacement for the aging Joint Stars while potentially performing maritime targeting missions.
The Raytheon Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) project, which has been under contract since July 2009, has received Milestone B approval for development and production planning and is proceeding toward critical design review.
Boeing received a $277 million contract in February to modify the first P-8A, aircraft T-1, for aerodynamic and structural tests of the AAS radar pod, which is carried under the fuselage. Those tests are to be completed by August 2016. The radar itself, a much-modernized evolutionary development of the Raytheon APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) is to be tested on a P-3C Orion, the current carrier for the APS-149. The value of the radar development contract has not been disclosed.
The Navy's goal is to acquire an undisclosed number of AAS systems and A-kits (parts that are attached to the aircraft to support the radar) and to configure some P-8As to carry the radar. Initial operational capability dates are also secret, but Boeing/Navy P-8A briefings suggest it is likely to follow the 2016 fielding of the P-8A's Increment 2 upgrade.
The P-8A radar plan has been in the works for almost a decade, but has been shrouded in secrecy because its predecessor, LSRS, was a black program—a classified and unacknowledged effort. To this day, although some AAS-related contracts have been announced, the program has no publicly visible budget. None of its elements has been competed or subjected to a formal analysis of alternatives process. AAS is managed by a one-program office, Advanced Sensor Technology, under the direction of Rear Adm. Don Gaddis, program executive officer for tactical aviation at Naval Air Systems Command.
LSRS itself was developed by the former Texas Instruments unit of Raytheon, which has historically provided Navy patrol aircraft with their search radars. The program started in the late 1990s or early 2000s and attained early operational capability in 2005, carried on P-3Cs flown by patrol squadron VP-46 out of NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. After the program was mentioned (apparently accidentally) in an unclassified document, and the modified aircraft had been photographed in transit to and from the Middle East, a small amount of information was released.
It is known that the LSRS P-3s have been extensively used both to support combat operations—not only for the Navy—and for tests and demonstrations, including tracking both land and maritime moving targets for engagements by stand-off missiles.