The U.S. Navy's P-8A Poseidon needs more "critical testing" before the service decides to buy production models of the submarine-hunting plane, according to the Pentagon's inspector general's office.
The Defense Department next month plans to hold a meeting to decide whether to begin full production of the Boeing Co.-made aircraft -- before testing is completed to determine whether it meets life-expectancy requirements, according to the summary of an audit released this week on the website of the Defense Department's Office of Inspector General.
"Additional critical testing should be completed before the full-rate production (FRP) decision," according to the summary dated June 10.
The author of the report wasn't listed. The Pentagon's inspector general position has been vacant for months. The office is headed by Principal Deputy Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks.
A decision by the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, to purchase the first 13 production models of the aircraft at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion "based on incomplete test results could result in costly retrofits to meet lifespan and mission and system performance requirements," it states.
The overall cost to develop and build 122 of the aircraft is estimated at $34.9 billion, according to figures the Pentagon released in May.
The P-8 Poseidon made by Chicago-based Boeing is based on the company's commercial 737-800 twin-engine narrow-body airliner. The naval version is designed to replace the P-3C Orion made by Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp, in conducting long-range missions to hunt submarines, among other ships, and collect intelligence, according to the Navy.
The IG office recommended for Kendall to buy the aircraft under a contract for low-rate production and delay the full-rate production decision until Capt. Scott Dillon, the Navy's program manager for maritime surveillance aircraft, demonstrates that the plane will be able to survive its 25-year lifespan without structural fatigue, overcome mission-limited deficiencies, and track surface ships and perform other primary missions.
A call to the program office seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.