Boeing Keeps F/A-18 SUPER HORNET Relevant
There are a lot of very old commercial derivatives in the military world out there, e.g. E-3 AWACS (on a Boeing 707 frame) or OC/RC-135 on a C-135 frame. There is a need for replacement and Boeing thinks the Boeing B737 is the best choice to do so.
The B737 is one of the largest commercial fleet worldwide, with 9,000+ in operation and another 4,000+ on order. There are 50+ airframes built each month. So far 180+ B737 derivatives are delivered for the Military Forces. Using the B737 airframe give you a minimize development risk and cost. It provides a great sensor/antenna size and placement.
And it enables future growth capabilities as historical 20-40% growth for DoD commercial derivatives programmes is already planned in. It offer a reduced militarized aircraft performance impacts with a significantly less range and altitude impact penalty and less airframe/engine stress with a higher mission payload and range. According to Boeing the commercial B737 has a availability of 99% (MIL 95%) with a 80% less depot time compared to business jets, also used for those purposes. The B737 is designed for high tempo and long life (30+ Years). Maintenance sites (400+ B737 service centers, 1,500+ airports with B737 operations) and spare parts are easily available around the world. That means lower (overall Operating) costs, especially when fuel costs are part of the calculation.
One of the main counterparts at the moment (on the US market) is the Gulfstream G550 for ISR-/C2-capabilities. The only official program is the “Joint Stars” (for the E-8 JSTARS on B707 produced in 1967) in the US, contracts are expected by the end of the year. Next a replacement of the RC-135/W RIVET Joint should come up down the timeline. But also smaller Airbus frames are in mind in other parts of the world. But also the NATO E-3 stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany have to get a life time extension and upgrade or being replaced, or the OC-135 Open Skies.
Available are the “normal” B737 NG (New Generation), but also the B737MAX. According to Boeing customers are looking at a transition to the MAX, maybe with a mixed fleet for some while. Boeing could even partner with other companies, just delivering the platform and partners doing the integration and sensors.
Boeing is not only using the B737, but also the B767 for military derivatives, e.g. for the tanker role or the AWACS of Japan.
Today the US Navy invited media to a visit to see the Boeing P-8A POSEIDON stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station (north of Seattle). Stationed there is one of the two Fleet Training Centers (FTC) with the 2nd being in Jacksonville, FL. They are responsible for crew training and the transition from the P-3 ORION to the P-8A POSEIDON.
The P-8A POSEIDON is a Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) and a modified 737-800ERX. The P-8 conducts anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and shipping interdiction, along with an early warning self protection (EWSP) ability, otherwise known as electronic support measures (ESM). This involves carrying torpedoes, depth charges, HARPOON anti-ship missiles, and other weapons.
It is able to drop and monitor sonobuoys, is designed to operate in conjunction with the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C TRITON Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aerial system (UAS(.
Other users are India (P-8I NEPTUNE), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and the UK's Royal Air Force (RAF), with the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) not being a customer yet, but has publicly stated an interest and is working together with the US government on the FMS process. Inside the P-8A, the crew can work at five workstations. A 6th workstation is planned and integration should start later this year. Also on board are three rotary launcher (for 10 buoys) and single launcher for the up to 129 buoys as a standard mission package. The crew can select of different buoys types. For example with the sonobuoys AN/SSQ-53F (passive, just listening) or the SSQ-62E (active, with pinging).
As a next step new types will be available: SSQ-53G (like the SSQ-53F but with GPS-signal) or the SSQ-62F (like SSQ-62E but with GPS-signal). The buoys can also measure the water temperature and depth for tactical reasons. Under wing weapon stations can carry Boeing AGM-84D Block IC HARPOON anti-ship missiles. In the future there will be two more under wing weapon stations available, not approved yet. And there are another five in the front fuselage, mines will be the most probably used weapons there.
Also on board is the Raytheon Mark 54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo (LHT), the standard 12.75in (324mm) ASW torpedo used by the US Navy (USN). One of the main P-8A capabilities will be the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC) Air Launch Accessory (ALA), turning a Mark 54 torpedo into a glide bomb for deploying from up to 30,000ft (9,100 metres).
The USN has 12 VPs (Patrol Squadrons), so far there are seven squadrons of P-8A POSEIDONs implemented, six at the east coast and one on the west coast, the rest is still on P-3. The VP4 (mission squadron) was just transitioned from the P-3 ORION and has currently two airplanes at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. All other squadrons have between four and nine airplanes.
At the moment, Boeing is delivering 1-2 aircraft to the USN each month. 111 P-8A are funded so far, but more (117) are wanted by the USN to replace the 200+ P-3 ORION. All ORIONs will stay in service with the reserves – for several more years. In Whidbey Island there are 23 P-3 left.
The transition training takes six months. 80% of the training is based on simulation, the rest inside the real P-8A. With the P-3 ORION it was more like 50/50. There are several simulation levels available, from a desktop trainer to a Full Flight Simulator Level D (FFS). There are three FFS available at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, four more to come and another ten in Jacksonville, FL/USA.
Each pilot gets 29 sets of simulation training with four hours (2 hrs. in each pilot seat). In the FFS every training is possible. Everything is software based, so new capabilities and features can fast an easily be implemented. At the end there is one instructor for one trainee in the Weapon Tactics Trainer (WTT), the high-end simulator for the crew. A crew consist of two to three pilots and three operators (acoustic and non-acoustic), depending on the type and length of mission. With the 6th workstation there will be another operator added. The mission commander can be a pilot or one of the “backseater.”
Duration at the moment is 11+ hours, but air-to-air refuelling will be one of the next capabilities upgrades and make the missions even longer. But the P-8A can fly faster and reach the mission area faster, has more range and duration, and with the new technologies there are more capabilities available and possible in the future. The aircraft has a built in growth capability of 24,000 pounds. With the rise of submarines operated worldwide, the crews will have a lot to do in their career.
A full-scale mock-up of a HÜRKUS C (Combat) can be found at the TAI Stand. The Turkish Army Aviation has options for 12 armed HÜRKUS Cs, which can work in the light attack/armed reconnaissance role.
There is also the possibility the Jandarma will be part of the deal, but it has not been confirmed. The new aircraft will be armed with the Laser-UMTAS long range anti-tank missile and Cirit 2.75in rockets, but will progress to bigger weapons like the TEBER 81 (Mk 82 bomb fitted with a Mubitak SAGE HGK-3 laser guidance kit), TEBER 82 (Mk 81 bomb fitted with HGK-5 laser guidance kit) and machine gun), all by Roketsan.
According to Ozcan Oertem, TAI’s Aircraft Group Vice President, “the advantage for the Army is that the HÜRKUS C will utilise the same weapons as the T-129 ATK helicopter. It can stay airborne for four hours - an endurance you can’t find on a helicopter. The Army is considering them for combat air patrols, fast response team and that’s why there will be an EO/IR turret underneath.”
TAI has converted one of the Hurkus A development aircraft, into the C prototype – the main difference between the two is a self-protection system and Aselsan cockpit as well as ability to carry weapons. Meanwhile, production is underway at TAI, on the HÜRKUS B new generation basic trainer. Ozcan adds: “This will aid the glass cockpit solution for the C, which has weapons and a self -protection system. The eighth of 15 aircraft on order is now on the jigs. The first example is expected to be powered up by the summer, with flight testing and qualification expected to start by the end of the year. It will lead to the first aircraft delivered to the TurAF in June 2018, with all 15 delivered by June 2019.”
The first three will be used for certification and qualifications, spanning 100 flying hours and the workload can be spread among the three not just to speed up the progress but save the airframe’s life.