Japan is moving forward with its own replacement for its twenty year old American P-3Cs maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Rather than buy the new American P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine and maritime patrol aircraft Japan is moving ahead with its own twin-jet P-1. This project has been moving along since the late 1990s, with the first flight taking place in 2007 and the first two production models delivered in 2013. Another eleven have been built for development and most of these can be converted to production model standards and put to work. With the growing threat of Chinese naval power, especially submarines, the military is asking for at least twenty more production models to be ordered in the next year.
The P-1 is based on a new Japanese designed air transport, the C-1, which is also been getting more government orders and is aimed at export markets as well. Thus the P-1 is 79 ton aircraft with eight hard points on the wings for up to eight tons of bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, mines or missiles. The P-1 also carries up to 70 sonobuoys. Crew consists of a pilot and copilot plus eleven for equipment operators. Cruise speed is 833 kilometers an hour and endurance is about nine hours.
The American P-8A also entered service in 2013, four years after its first flight in 2009. The P-8A 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 replacing, 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 heavier (83 tons versus 61). Most other characteristics are the same. Both can stay in the air about 10 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 distant 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 lighter and 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 P-1 matches the P-8A pretty closely.
The B-737 like the C-1 is a more modern design. The 737 has been used successfully since the 1960s by commercial aviation. Navy aviators are confident that it will be as reliable as the P-3. Problems with new military electronics are not unusual but it was hoped that the manufacturer would find and fix the worst bugs before the troops got the aircraft.
The P-3 was based on the Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954, although only 170 were built, plus 600 P-3s. Some 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.
The P-8 is remarkably similar in terms of the equipment and techniques to the half century old P-3s it replaces. Arguably the most successful maritime patrol aircraft ever, the P-3 experience, and some of the same gear were merged with the equally admired Boeing 737 air transport to create the P-8. While the functions of the P-8 are similar to the P-3 most of the electronics are new and apparently not tested enough. The U.S. and Indian navies will both receive the new American P-8 maritime reconnaissance aircraft at about the same time. The Indians P-8Is are slightly different than the P-8A the Americans will use. The Japanese also customized their P-3Cs.