Based on active, electronically scanned array technology, LSRS has been assessed as far superior to the older APY-7 carried by Joint Stars. The antenna is double-sided, so the aircraft can scan simultaneously to left or right, and the radar can interleave ground moving target indication (GMTI) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) modes rather than being restricted to one mode at a time.
AAS is expected to be more capable than LSRS, and will include new features such as NetTrack, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to track high-value targets—for example, key insurgent personnel and their vehicles—in high-clutter environments, by using high-range resolution radar measurements. AAS has what Boeing describes as “weapon-capability” accuracy, and Boeing illustrations and videos show aircraft directly striking ground targets with Small Diameter Bombs.
However, the system could also have potential for maritime operations. In 2004, the USAF used Joint Stars to guide datalinked weapons onto ship targets in the Resultant Fury exercise, using technology from the Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement project. The latest Naval Aviation Vision report, published in March, discussed development of a follow-on strike weapon to replace Harpoon and SLAM-ER, which will be “net-enabled” and a maritime interdiction version of Tomahawk—both of which would be designed to exploit long-range, high-resolution targeting from other platforms.
Plans to develop this version of the P-8A started in 2003, before Boeing was selected as the winner of the Navy's Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program. At that time, Boeing changed the basis of its MMA design from the 737-700 to the longer-bodied 737-800 and introduced an aft weapon bay and two forward-fuselage centerline hardpoints. At the time, Boeing would only say the design was to accommodate a classified Navy capability, but in fact, it was to accommodate the antenna of the LSRS.
The inter-service politics of the program are intricate. The Navy is apparently willing to dedicate some of its P-8s to a largely overland, joint-service mission, possibly to maintain support for its large MPA force, while Boeing sees potential for selling up to 15 air-ground surveillance versions of the P-8A to the Air Force to replace Joint Stars. The USAF “is really fighting to not put any more money into large-platform GMTI,” says one observer. “I can't honestly see how they win that fight in the long run. It's too easy for the Army to claim they absolutely need GMTI and the Air force must provide it.”