The US Navy (USN) is preparing to deploy its Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft outside of the 7th Fleet’s area of responsibility (AoR) for the first time in early 2016, a service official confirmed on 9 November.
Speaking at the Dubai Airshow, Captain Shane Tallant, military director of international programmes at PMA-206, said that, with the P-8A’s four deployments to date having all taken place in the 7th Fleet’s Pacific AoR, the navy is now working up to the type’s maiden operational missions in the Gulf and European AoRs of the 5th and 6th Fleets respectively.
“We are going to deploy two aircraft to Bahrain in April 2016, and [an undisclosed number of aircraft] to Sigonella in Italy in about 2018,” he said.
Since entering USN service in 2013, the P-8A has been confined to flying operational missions out of Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Locating its newest and most capable airborne maritime patrol asset in this region was very much a strategic decision by the US Department of Defense (DoD) to help try and counter the growing assertiveness of China.
In the two years of operations, the P-8A has flown the full gamut of its maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission sets, Capt Tallant said, most notably with regard to Chinese reef building in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, and the international search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 (alongside P-8I Neptunes of the Indian Navy).
According to Tallant, the P-8A’s jet performance has been “a real game-changer” when compared to its turboprop Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion predecessor, in terms of being able to arrive on station quicker. With the aircraft having proven its promised capabilities over the Pacific with more than 50,000 operational hours flown, the navy now feels that the time is right to begin introducing it into other theatres.