Australia, Canada, and Italy were named by the U.S. government at the end of 2004 as being the most likely partners in the development of the P-8A Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA), based on a Boeing 737 airframe. The US Navy is now in formal talks with these potential international partners, and India has also expressed interest. The U.S. market alone is estimated to be $20 billion, and the P-8 replaces the P-3 Orion aircraft currently in service with 15 countries.
Each potential international partner would be expected to contribute approximately $300 million toward the development of the P-8A. The U.S. also approached other allies but according to eDefense they were "less responsive," raising the prospect of a competing European system at some future date based on an Airbus airframe.
The P-8 MMA will search for and destroy submarines, monitor sea traffic, launch missile attacks on naval or land targets as required, and possibly engage in an electronic intercept role. This will involve carrying sonobuoys, torpedoes, depth charges, Harpoon anti-shipping missiles, SLAM land attack missile, and other weapons, as well as advanced sensors, communications, and other electronics. The program goal is a modern, highly reliable airframe that will be equipped with improved maritime surveillance and attack capability, allowing a smaller force to provide worldwide responsiveness on a smaller support infrastructure.
The resulting aircraft will play a role in a number of emerging military doctrines. It will be a key component in the U.S. Navy's Sea Power 21 Sea Shield concept by providing an anti-submarine, anti-ship and anti-smuggling platform that can sweep the area, launch sensors or weapons as needed, and remain aloft for many hours. MMA will also play a key role in the U.S. Navy's FORCEnet architecture via development of the Common Undersea Picture (CUP). As a secondary role, it will support portions of Sea Power 21's Sea Strike doctrine through provisions of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
In June of 2004, Boeing IDS was awarded the $3.9 billion cost-plus-award-fee contract to develop the Navy's P-8 Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. The system design and development (SDD) contract covers the full range of developing what's required for the aircraft, including all of the onboard mission systems, the modifications to the airframe itself, all of the training systems, and all of the software laboratories required to produce almost 2 million lines of reliable code. It also covers developing all of the integrated logistics elements, including the trainers, simulators and courseware. Essentially everything that's required to get ready to build the production MMA is part of the SDD contract. The MMA Program was recently cleared by a US technical review board to proceed into the design phase, and will undergo a preliminary design review in September 2005.
The U.S. program objective currently is 108 aircraft, plus an additional three system design & development aircraft. The P-8A is scheduled to begin U.S. service between 2010-2013, and to enter foreign service in 2015 and beyond. The aircraft procurement phases of the U.S. P-8A MMA program alone are estimated to be a $20 billion effort, and then the total life cycle cost for procurement plus 25 years of life cycle support is estimated to be about a $44 billion in FY 2004 dollars.
The Indian Navy's interest in joining the MMA program has already been communicated, and the Pentagon would possibly provide an answer through Defence Security Cooperation Group (DSCG) chief Lt. Gen Jeffrey B. Kohler. Some Indian Navy sources believe that a recent decision to spend $6 billion on 50 Boeing civil jets for Air India could incline Boeing toward a favourable response. The P-8A matches the operational profile currently assigned to the Indian Navy's Tupolev-142 "Bear" long-range reconnaissance planes and Ilyushin-38 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
These discussions come in the wake a recent visit to India by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, in which the USA expressed its desire to substantially upgrade their strategic relationship. Given the two nations' shared interest in an arc that stretches from the Staits of Malacca to the coast of East Africa, many analysts see naval cooperation as the likely linchpin of their future military relationship. Washington's recent offer of at least 12 P-3C Orions would match India's requirements profile immediately, but participation in the P-8A offers an aircraft with superior performance in all respects plus accompanying strategic, industrial, and prestige benefits. Some analysts consider the request a sort of test by India of its long-term importance to the USA.
As things currently stand, the P-8A will be built by Boeing's Integrated Defence Systems (Boeing IDS) division, CFM International (a 50/50 joint company of Snecma Moteurs and General Electric Company), Northrop-Grumman, Raytheon, and Smiths Aerospace.
There is something on the order of 225 P-3 type aircraft in 15 countries. Some countries that fly the P-3 already have a natural interest in the P-8, while others like India recognize its obvious usefulness for both the diesel submarine threat and for a variety of operations that could be related to the war on terrorism, anti-drug efforts, et. al. As such, the market opportunity for the MMA is considered to be quite substantial.