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Top Weapons Buyer Disputes P-8 Testing Woes

The Pentagon's top weapons buyer defended the P-8A Poseidon from an audit that found the aircraft can't perform its main missions such as hunting submarines and conducting wide-area surveillance.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, described the Boeing Co.-made plane as a "good product" and the Navy's acquisition effort to buy a total of 122 of the aircraft at an estimated cost of $35 billion as a "relatively successful program."

His comments came Tuesday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the military's plans to shift strategic emphasis to the Asia-Pacific region. He was responding to questions from Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who cited a forthcoming report by the Pentagon's top weapons tester, J. Michael Gilmore, that concluded the aircraft isn't effective at such missions.

Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational testing and evaluation, in a report expected to be released Wednesday, "found the aircraft is not effective for the mission of hunting submarines or performing reconnaissance over large areas due to a number of major deficiencies,'" Speier said. "So tell me why the department decided to go into full-rate production anyway," she said, referring to the Pentagon's Jan. 3 authorization to increase production of the aircraft.

Kendall replied that the P-8 is being fielded in phases with incremental advances in technology.

"The capabilities that the DOT&E report talked about not being there are underway. They're coming," he said. "We're going to move onto wider-area surveillance capabilities I think within a few years. So the aircraft actually is, I think, a relatively successful program despite the tone of that report."

"So you just dispute the report outright?" Speier asked.

"The report is factually correct but it doesn't acknowledge the fact that this was the plan," Kendall said. "The plan was to develop a certain set and field a certain set of initial capabilities for local anti-submarine warfare capabilities and then add capabilities to that in increments. It's an acquisition strategy that has been used on a number of programs."

When Speier asked whether the plane's other mission components were performing to task, Kendall said the aircraft will initially be able to conduct anti-submarine warfare, or ASW, missions over a local area. After receiving additional sensor and processing packages, it will be able to do similar operations over a wider area, he said.

"But have we continued the production of this particular component, even though it has major deficiencies is my question," Speier said.

"When you say deficiencies, what that means is, it can't do certain things," Kendall replied. "It doesn't mean that it's a bad design. It doesn't mean that there are problems with the airplane. It's a very good product."

The Pentagon's inspector general's office in a report last year said the Navy needs to conduct more “critical testing” of the aircraft deciding to buy production models of the plane. The manufacturer later dismissed the report, saying it was satisfying the service's flight-testing program.

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.

Six of the P-8 planes in recent months were transferred to the Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, as part of the so-called Pacific pivot.

"This is a super aircraft," Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the Navy's Pacific Fleet, said after flying in one as part of an eight-hour maritime surveillance mission last week over the East China Sea, according to an official press release. "In my opinion, the P-8A is exceeding its key performance parameters by a wide margin."

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