P-3 Groundings Mean ISR Shortage

The U.S. Navy's "deficit" in its P-3 maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft community has risen to a "significant" level after at least 39 P-3s, roughly a fourth of the service's family, have been grounded, according to Navy officials.

Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Feb. 28 that some aircraft were grounded due to wing cracks. In his remarks and prepared testimony, Roughead said the airborne ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) fleet's importance and high-operations tempo in Iraq operations, as well as traditional submarine-hunting missions, have stressed the aircraft and boosted the need to replace them more quickly.

"The recent groundings of high-demand P-3 aircraft highlight the need to bring the next generation of aircraft in service and retire our aging aircraft," Roughead said.

To that effect, the Navy has highlighted more than $548 million eyed for "critical maritime patrol improvements" as its top concern under the service's so-called unfunded fiscal 2009 programs list as recently delivered to Capitol Hill.

If provided by Congress, $384.1 million of that amount would go toward P-3 kit installations this fiscal year, which ends in September, along with another $312.2 in FY '09. Another $100 million would go toward accelerating P-8A Multimission Aircraft (MMA) research and development (R&D), minus an unidentified amount of funds already being transferred to MMA R&D via an existing Defense Department reprogramming effort.

The Boeing P-8A Poseidon is designed to replace legacy P-3C Orions and upgrade maritime patrol anti-submarine (ASW) and antisurface warfare, as well as armed ISR capabilities that reside in P-3 squadrons, for combat and theater security operations and homeland defense. According to the Navy, initial operational capability is expected in FY '13, while $1.1 billion is included in the regular FY '09 budget request announced Feb. 4...

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-- Christian

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