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Britain Wants to Hunt Submarines with These American Planes

The U.K. is gearing up to start hunting submarines and other targets with U.S. aircraft, notably the P-8 Poseidon, a militarized version of Boeing Co.'s 737 commercial airliner.

The Pentagon recently notified Congress that Britain plans to buy up to nine of the so-called submarine hunters as part of a deal worth $3.2 billion. The Chicago-based aerospace giant also has contracts to supply as many as two dozen of the planes to other international customers including Australia and India.

The company's biggest customer for the aircraft remains the U.S. Navy, which plans to purchase a total of 114 of the twin-engine jets at an estimated cost of $32.4 billion to replace its aging fleet of P-3C Orions, a four-engine turboprop made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and introduced in the 1960s.

Military.com took a tour of the P-8A last year at the Paris Air Show during which a naval flight officer said what sets the plane apart are its sensors, radios and sonobuoy launcher, as well as work stations that allow crew members onboard to hunt targets ranging from submarines and surface warfare ships.

The officer couldn't offer many details about the unit's recent several-month deployment to the Pacific region, but he did highlight the 28 submarine decals painted on the side of the plane, each of which represented a foreign submarine identified and located by the squadron.

The P-8 sensor suite includes an active multi-static and passive acoustic sensor system, an electro-optical/infrared sensor and a digital magnetic anomaly detector. It also carries an inverse synthetic aperture radar.

The Pentagon's independent testing office recently concluded that the aircraft's sensor system "provides an early P-8A wide-area, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) search capability similar to P-3C MAC search capability," but also noted that the technology "is strongly dependent on the environmental conditions present in the search area and the actions taken by adversaries to avoid detection."

The test report also concluded that while the sensor system "provides an effective capability in some environments and scenarios, it fails to deliver the full capability described by the Navy P-8A ASW concept of operations and MAC operational requirement documents."

In the past, company officials have said described the acquisition program as "incremental" and "evolutionary," with upgrades planned over time. For example, the aircraft is slated to receive software improvements, anti-submarine warfare upgrades, network-enabled weapons and additional sensor enhancements by 2021.

While the aircraft is better known for its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance abilities, it also has four wing pylons and two centerline pylons to carry weapons, including MK 54 torpedoes and AGM-84D Block 1C Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

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