U.S. Navy’s new surveillance plane is full of flaws and not yet effective

Although it has not been released yet, the outcome of the annual report on major weapons, by Michael Gilmore, chief of the Pentagon testing office, has already made the news.

Even if the report does not use the word “flop”,  it depicts the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon as just not yet effective in two of its main missions: anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and wide area reconnaissance.

Flaws in the multi-million program (actually, a 35 billion USD endeavour) are almost everywhere: radar, sensor integration, data transfer.

According to Bloomberg News, Gilmore said the new aircraft shows “all of the major deficiencies identified in earlier exercises when subjected to more stressful realistic combat testing from September 2012 to March 2013.”

For this reason the P-8A “is not effective for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission and is not effective for wide area anti-submarine search.”

Obviously, at least “some” of the issues will soon be fixed, but the reports highlights that the B737-800 packed with sensors aren’t ready to be deployed and used in combat simply because they would fail in tracking Chinese subsmarines.

Still, the U.S. Navy has already deployed six P-8As (out of 13 delivered so far) to Japan to perform that mission.

So far Navy’s comments on the plane have always been positive and this is also the official stance of Boeing, that has also said it they will closely work with the service to solve any issues that come up.

Although the test office found that, currently, the P-8A provide the same small-area search capabilities of the older P-3C Orion it is slightly replacing, the Poseidon is a quite young weapons system, hence it is provides the U.S. Navy a higher reliability, maintainability and availability with an increased range, payload and speed.

The problem is not with the airframe, but with the costly sensors that should be the real added-value of the new aircraft: radar and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) that make both ASW and ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions possible.

These will be fixed in the next months.

The U.S. Navy plans to operate a fleet of 113 P-8A Poseidon next generation maritime patrol aircraft.

Image credit: U.S. Navy


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About David Cenciotti 4451 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.


  1. Oh? How do you know these problems are going to be fixed? Because the Navy says so? They said this aircraft was war-ready and now, all of a sudden, it isn’t.

  2. Like the article mentioned, the problem is with the sensors, not airframe. The new airframe maturing faster than the sensors it carries seems to be a common trend with navy EW/ISR aircraft. I seem to recall when the EA-18 Growler went operational it had to deploy with EW pods originally used by the Prowler since the new EW suite wasn’t ready for primetime.

    • Yeah, the advertised performance is just around the corner. Taxpayers just have to prime the pump a few more years . . .

  3. US sold 8 Poseidon P-8I (I means India) to India. And some more are ready to be signed. So any idea whether the problems with US version of P-8A have any effect on P-8I?

  4. That’s what happens when you let the enemy supply your electronics. BAE has the electronics contract and they subcontracted with . . . the PRC! Surprise, surprise, nothing worked on the first one, bogus chips, hard wired back doors into the communications and data links. Golly.
    Will the U.S. ever figure out that one does not let one’s potential enemy provide anything other than a target?

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