Navy P-8A Surveillance Planes Deploy to Tense Pacific

The Navy's new high-tech submarine hunting ISR planes, the P-8A Poseidon aircraft, arrive in Japan for their first deployment

The U.S. Navy has begun deploying six of its next generation submarine hunters, the P-8A Poseidon aircraft, to Japan, marking the plane’s first-ever deployment at the same time China has provoked tensions in the East China Sea

The U.S. Air Force has flown two unarmed B-52 bombers over the contested area in a move that U.S. defense leaders said was meant to show that the U.S and its allies will not curtail its missions in light of China’s announcement.

The B-52 flights are part of what Pentagon officials describe as “persistent bomber presence,” a strategic effort to fly routine missions with unarmed bombers through the region.

Pentagon officials say Vice President Joseph Biden plans to bring up the issue of the East China Sea when meeting in China with Chinese leaders in coming days. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the U.S. military will not adhere to the guidelines of the Chinese-described air-defense zone — and one Pentagon official called the Chinese proclamation of an air-defense zone in the East China Sea an unnecessary move.

“It heightens tensions in the region and increases the risks of misunderstandings and miscalculations,” said Lt. Col.  Jeffrey Pool, a Pentagon spokesman.

Although the arrival of the P-8As are part of an expected deployment, having the improved ISR and sub-hunting technology of the P-8A aircraft in the region is a welcome development in light of recent tensions and the Pentagon’s broader Pacific re-balance, Pool said.

“They (P-8As) are the most advanced long-range, anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare aircraft in the world,” Pool said.

Emphasizing ISR is a large part of the Pentagon’s Pacific re-balance because of the need for long-dwell ISR over what’s described as the “tyranny of distance” characterizing the geographical expanse of the region.  The Pentagon plans to send two Global Hawk  ISR aircraft to Japan this coming Spring.

In addition, the Navy is developing a carrier-launched drone which will extend ISR dwell-time in the region,  a developmental item called the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

Along these lines, the Poseidon aircraft will improve the Navy’s ISR technology in the region, service officials said. The last two of the six P-8A Poseidons left their home base in Jacksonville, Fla. Dec. 3, setting their course for Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

“The P-8’s state of the art open architecture mission system, coupled with next-generation sensors, improves the fleet’s ability to officially conduct anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and ISR,” said Lt. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman.

The arrival of the P-8A is part of a phased replacement of the existing P-3C Orion surveillance planes. All fleet squadrons will eventually be equipped with the new P-8A aircraft.

“We will demonstrate the ability of the P-8A to operate effectively alongside P-3C during high-tempo deployed operations. I also look forward to the P-8A integrating seamlessly with our international partners and allies–our interoperability will only get better with Poseidon,” said Capt. Mike Parker, Commander, Task Force 72.

The beginning of this first deployment for the P-8A corresponded with the declaration that the aircraft had achieved initial operational capability.

“The number of submarines in the world is increasing rapidly. Other countries are either building or purchasing advanced, quiet, and extremely hard to find submarines, and we need to be able to match that technology to be able to detect them,” Rear Adm. Matt Carter, Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, said in a written Navy statement.

Boeing is on contract to build and deliver 37 P-8A aircraft, twelve of which have already arrived, said Charles Ramey, Boeing spokesman.  Overall, the Navy plans to purchase 117 P-8As.

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Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.