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The P-8A Poseidon Adventure: Training, Transition, and Deployment

Part 3 of 3

The P-8A Poseidon’s debut deployment will be to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa with detachments all over the western Pacific. Poseidon basing requirements are a bit different. Getting a P-8A into the existing P-3 hangar at Kadena isn’t possible due to its larger size and higher profile. As such, the hangar has been modified to allow the P-8A to tuck inside. With Japanese partnership, a new hangar is under construction to permanently accommodate the aircraft.

P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon aircraft occupy the flight line at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Jan. 28, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gulianna Dunn

P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon aircraft occupy the flight line at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Jan. 28, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gulianna Dunn

The current basing plan would place five squadrons at NAS Jacksonville, Fla. four squadrons at Whidbey Island, Wash. and three at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The basing scheme is under review with possible implications for Kanehoe Bay, but finalization is expected in 2013.

Orion aircrews will undertake the transition at Jacksonville. The process requires 18 months, the first six of which are devoted to Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) qualification for the aircrew and training for the squadron’s maintenance department. The remaining 12 months are dedicated to Advanced Combat Readiness training, qualifying the aircrew to “fight” the aircraft.

“We’ve set up the transition such that a P-3 squadron goes on a Western Pacific deployment,” Buck explains, “which is a very rich anti-submarine warfare type environment, a rich maritime environment. The squadron gets experience operating in that area, understanding where they detach to, the mission sets, the environment, climate and hazards. They come home, turn in their P-3s, and they start the P-8 transition, getting NATOPS qualified, learning how to fight it, and we send them right back to the western Pacific. They’re familiar with the environment. They just bring a new weapons system. We think it’s the best way to meet the fleet commander’s needs and give the fleet commander confidence in the new weapons system in their AOR.”

The veteran aircrews of VP-16 have made the transition smooth despite the adjustments required in moving from a 1960/70s era platform to a 21st century maritime patrol aircraft, the squadron’s Commanding Officer Cmdr. Molly Boron notes.

P-8A Poseidon

Airman Kevin Scott and Airman Robert French, both assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16, direct a P-8A Poseidon on the flight line, Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 31, 2013. The War Eagles recently became qualified to launch and recover their aircrafts independently. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gulianna Dunn

“They were all very experienced folks who we took through the transition. They’ve all done extremely well. For older folks like myself, it’s a little tougher to make the transition but the aircraft is very friendly. We’re starting our IDRC (Inter-Deployment Readiness Cycle). One crew has finished the Aircrew Readiness Program and two more are in the process.”

The process by which the subsequent deployment is undertaken was designed by Rear Adm. Sean Buck, Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, and his staff to maximize efficiency by keeping as many variables the same as possible.

Successful integration of the Harpoon will dovetail with the Poseidon’s first deployment, where the P-8A’s combination of advancements should be fully demonstrated and any
shortcomings will be laid bare in short order.

“We’ve set up the transition such that a P-3 squadron goes on a Western Pacific deployment,” Buck explains, “which is a very rich anti-submarine warfare type environment, a rich maritime environment. The squadron gets experience operating in that area, understanding where they detach to, the mission sets, the environment, climate and hazards. They come home, turn in their P-3s, and they start the P-8 transition, getting NATOPS qualified, learning how to fight it, and we send them right back to the western Pacific. They’re familiar with the environment. They just bring a new weapons system. We think it’s the best way to meet the fleet commander’s needs and give the fleet commander confidence in the new weapons system in their AOR.”

The arrangement also means that, going forward, the strategically important Pacific will have a continuous P-8A presence. Part of the allure of the P-8A Poseidon weapons system is not only its constituent capabilities but its projected capacity to operate with the Navy’s forthcoming Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned MQ-4C Triton aircraft.

MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS)

Northrop Grumman unveils the U.S. Navy MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft system during a ceremony at the Northrop Grumman Palmdale Calif., manufacturing facility, June 14, 2012. Officially called the Triton, the MQ-4C is a surveillance aircraft and will be an adjunct to the P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft as part of the Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance force. U.S. Navy photo courtesy Northrup Grumman

The MQ-4C is slated to reach IOC in FY 2016. Much has been made of the potential tandem operation of the two platforms, but Buck (who also oversees the Triton program) cautions that their integration will be limited for some time to come.

“In the near future, I’d say for the next ten years, there will never be any intention for the aircrew on a P-8 to take control of or fly an unmanned system.”

Successful integration of the Harpoon will dovetail with the Poseidon’s first deployment, where the P-8A’s combination of advancements should be fully demonstrated and any
shortcomings will be laid bare in short order.

“It’s going to be much the same as our WestPac deployment last year,” Boron reckons. “The mission sets will be the same, ASW, ASUW, and ISR, but the airplane is new and crew comfort will be vastly improved.”

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...