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Meet the P-8A Poseidon, the Navy's new sub hunter (pictures)

The Navy has been flying the P-3 Orion since the early 1960s. Now the old guard can begin its final approach to retirement as Poseidon starts to soar.

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Jon Skillings
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1 of 17 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kegan E. Kay

Poseidon 429 and 435

Adios, Orion. Hello, Poseidon. The US Navy has begun fielding a new generation of maritime reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, with an immediate emphasis on scanning the waters of the western Pacific. Pictured above at the start of the first operational deployment, of six such aircraft in December 2013, are P-8A Poseidon Nos. 429 and 435. The locale is a refueling stop at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan, but their base of operations is Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, with the Navy's Patrol Squadron 16 (VP 16). Click onward for a closer look.
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2 of 17 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric A. Pastor

A nose for reconnaissance

At the end of February 2014, Boeing received a $2.4 billion contract from the Navy for 16 P-8A Poseidons on top of the aircraft it has already delivered -- and marking a shift from preliminary low-rate production to full-rate production. The new contract puts Boeing on the hook to provide 53 of the new aircraft to the US Navy, and to date it has delivered 13. Eventually, Boeing says, the Navy plans to buy a total of 117 P-8A aircraft.

The P-8A is based on a commercial Boeing aircraft, the 737-800. (Similarly, the new KC-46A Tanker aerial-refueling aircraft, which is to replace the older KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders, is based on the commercial Boeing 767 design.)

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3 of 17 US Navy photo by Kaylee LaRocque

Jaguar in the cockpit

The Navy knows when to set up a photo op. Here, about a month ahead of the inaugural P-8A deployment, while the aircraft were still at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, a pilot assigned to Patrol Squadron 16 shows off the features of the Poseidon cockpit to Jacksonville Jaguars guard Will Rackley.

The role of the P-8A is long-range antisubmarine and antisurface warfare, with more general intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions thrown in for good measure.

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4 of 17 US Navy photo by Glenn Fawcett

SecDef in the cockpit

Same thing you were just looking at? Not quite. The previous slide showed the actual cockpit, while this is a P-8A flight simulator. A bonus here is that we get to see the controls all lit up. The gent in the seat at the left is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who got to try out the system, including a simulated landing.
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5 of 17 US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist William Lovelady

Poseidon and Orion

The jet-powered Poseidon is replacing the propeller-driven P-3A Orion, an aircraft that the Navy has been flying (with upgrades) since 1962. You can see three Orions here, including the plane at front left. A Poseidon is at front right. In between the two is an unmanned aircraft known as BAMS (for broad area maritime surveillance) -- more on that in a sec.

The Navy will continue to make use of P-3C versions of the Orion along with the P-8A Poseidons for a while yet to come, in a phased replacement.

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6 of 17 Alan Radecki/Lockheed Martin

Spy drone

Here's what else is coming as the Navy updates its Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force -- a drone component, in the form of Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton. The plan is for the Navy to use both the Triton (an eventual total of 68 aircraft) and the Poseidon in tandem for surveillance missions, though those MQ-4C aircraft are likely still many months from deployment. As of early January 2014, Northrop Grumman and the Navy had conducted nine test flights of the Triton.

Based on the Global Hawk UAS and built with the Navy's BAMS program in mind, the Triton also comes with de-icing and lightning protection systems, along with reinforcements to the airframe and wing. "These capabilities allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed," Northrop Grumman said. "The current sensor suite allows ships to be tracked over time by gathering information on their speed, location, and classification."

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7 of 17 US Navy photo by Personnel Specialist 1st Class Anthony Petry

Poseidon in flight

The P-8A Poseidon measures about 130 feet in length, with a wingspan of around 120 feet. It has a ceiling of 41,000 feet and can hit an airspeed of 490 knots. The aircraft's range is given as "1,200 nautical miles radius, with four hours on station."

Boeing says that the P-8A has the fuselage of a 737-800 and the wings of a 737-900. The aerospace giant also has orders for the aircraft from India (for the P-8I derivative) and Australia.

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8 of 17 US Navy photo by Richard Stewart

Poseidon workstations

Here's a look at the interior of the P-8A Poseidon and its workstations. The aircraft has a crew of nine.
P-8A Poseidon interior
9 of 17 US Navy photo by Kaylee LaRocque

More Jaguars

It's Jaguars time again. In November 2013, two players from Jacksonville's NFL franchise -- Sen'Derrick Marks (at left) and Will Rackley -- get a tour of a Poseidon aircraft from the commanding officer of Patrol Squadron 16, Cmdr. Daniel Papp.
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10 of 17 US Navy photo by Clark Pierce

Poseidon interior

Here's the interior of the Poseidon from a different angle. Getting the lowdown on the aircraft's weapons systems last September are a pair of generals, one from Guatemala and the other from Denmark.
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11 of 17 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay Pugh

Sonobuoy storage

The tubular arrays on either side of the aisle in the P-8A Poseidon are storage for sonobuoys -- sonar devices that get dropped into the ocean to track submarines. Each Poseidon can carry more than 100 sonobuoys.
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12 of 17 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric A. Pastor

Armed and dangerous

The Poseidon is neither fighter nor bomber, but it does pack armaments that can include missiles, torpedoes, and mines. Here, a Navy ordnance crew gets ready to load a MK-54 torpedo onto a P-8A.
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13 of 17 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric A. Pastor

MK-54 torpedo

Here's a closer look at a MK-54 torpedo before it gets loaded onto a P-8A Poseidon.
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14 of 17 US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith W. DeVinney

P-3C Orion

This is the P-3C Orion, the aircraft that the Poseidon is replacing. Some Orions will continue to be deployed in the coming months as the Poseidon inventory builds up to full strength. The Orion you see here was on a training mission in the summer of 2012.
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15 of 17 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Toiete Jackson

Avionics check

A crew member performs a preflight check of the avionics systems on a P-3 Orion.
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16 of 17 U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Daniel Sanford

Sonobuoy check

This preflight activity on a P-3 Orion is a sonobuoy continuity check.
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17 of 17 US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist William Lovelady

Out with the old...

Here's one last look at the old and the new -- a P-3C Orion at left, and a P-8A Poseidon at right.

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