February 26, 2012: STRATEGY PAGE
On February 21st Pakistan received two more of the six P-3C maritime patrol aircraft ordered from the United States. The first two arrived two years ago. But four months later, the Karachi naval base where the P-3s were stationed was attacked. A team of Islamic terrorists easily got into the base and destroyed two P-3s, and left twenty people dead. But now Pakistan again has three P-3s.
The Pakistani P-3s are optimized for maritime surveillance, with new electronics and the ability to see the results of all sensors on one display. For a while, Pakistan will have more capable maritime surveillance aircraft than India. But India will regain the lead within three years. The U.S. and Indian navies will both receive the new American P-8 maritime reconnaissance aircraft at about the same time (2013-14). The Indians are getting eight P-8Is, which will be customized for Indian needs, and be slightly different than the P-8A the Americans will use.
The P-8A Poseidon is based on the widely used Boeing 737 airliner. Although the Boeing 737 based P-8A is a two engine jet, compared to the four engine turboprop P-3, it is a more capable plane. The P-8A has 23 percent more floor space than the P-3, and is larger (38 meter/118 foot wingspan, versus 32.25 meter/100 foot) and is heavier (83 tons versus 61). Most other characteristics are the same. Both can stay in the air about ten hours per sortie. Speed is different. Cruise speed for the 737 is 910 kilometers an hour, versus 590 for the P-3. This makes it possible for the P-8A to get to a patrol area faster, which is a major advantage when chasing down subs first spotted by sonar arrays or satellites. However, the P-3 can carry more weapons (9 tons, versus 5.6.) This is less of a factor as the weapons (torpedoes, missiles, mines, sonobouys) are pound for pound, more effective today and that trend continues. Both carry the same size crew, of 10-11 pilots and equipment operators. Both aircraft carry search radar and various other sensors.
The 737 has, like the P-3, been equipped with hard points on the wings for torpedoes or missiles. The B-737 is a more modern design, and has been used successfully since the 1960s by commercial aviation. Navy aviators are confident that it will be as reliable as the P-3 (which was based on the Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954, although only 170 were built, plus 600 P-3s. About 40 Electras are still in service). The Boeing 737 first flew in 1965, and over 5,000 have been built. The P-8A will be the first 737 designed with a bomb bay and four wing racks for weapons. The P-8 costs about $275 million each.