A P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron 16 flies over Jacksonville, Fla. The squadron will deploy to the Western Pacific with the Poseidon in December. (PS1 Anthony Petry / Navy)
The Navy's P-8A Poseidon is faster, has better sensors, can carry more weapons and is more comfortable than its predecessor, the P-3 Orion, and the "War Eagles" of Patrol Squadron 16 are getting ready to take it on deployment.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based squadron will deploy in December to the Western Pacific and fly patrols out of Kadena Air Base, Japan.
"Initially, these first few deployments with the P-8 will operate a traditional P-3 profile," said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, head of the Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, during a Feb. 22 news conference at Joint Base Andrews, Md.
That means they'll keep busy with anti-submarine, anti-surface and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions that can last nearly 11 hours, just like with the P-3. But the P-8 is faster than its predecessor and has better sensors, allowing it to collect large amounts of intelligence quickly from broad areas; both Buck and VP-16's aircrews said it's easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of data the plane gathers.
The squadron will deploy with 12 aircrews and six P-8s.
And while the mission may be similar to the P-3 for now, expect changes over the next decade, Buck said.
For example, while the P-8 won't initially carry mines, it has that capability. It's also built for airborne refueling, which is expected to begin in 2015, when those squadrons that have already transitioned to the P-8 should be properly trained for this capability.
Additional improvements will allow it to climb higher to optimize its sensors, search a broader area and drop weapons from higher altitudes than before. Buck said they are developing a concept of operations to integrate the MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned patrol plane, into P-8 missions. It will be at least a decade before a Triton is flown by an operator sitting in a Poseidon, he said.
The P-8 — which carries 120 sonobuoys, or 36 more than the P-3 — is entering operations as the world's submarine fleet grows. AMI International, a naval analysis firm, expects 281 new submarines to be built worldwide by 2030 — more than every other type of warship construction except for amphibs and patrol craft.
Of those new subs, the vast majority will belong to Asia-Pacific countries, with China and India expected to add 30 to 40 subs apiece. Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea are also expected to strengthen their navies by five to 10 submarines each.
The Navy plans to buy 117 Poseidons, with the last one procured in 2018 and delivered in 2020. The last P-3 flight with an active-duty aircrew is expected in 2020, 61 years after the Orion first flew.
The War Eagles made history in January, becoming the first operational squadron to fly the Poseidon after completing its safe-for-flight inspection. The squadron had returned from its last P-3 deployment in June and turned in its aircraft. It began training on the Poseidon in July with the Navy's only maritime patrol fleet replacement squadron, VP-30.
Last year, Navy officials outlined the squadron training plan as follows: VP-5, then VP-45 and then the remainder of Jacksonville-based VP squadrons. Training would next involve the three squadrons at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, and then wrap with the three in Whidbey Island, Wash.
Transitions are estimated at six months per squadron.