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Around The Fleet

The Navy's Newest Anti-submarine Warfare Asset

P-8A Poseidon participates in annual Fleet Challenge competition


Walking up to the aircraft and stepping on board, you're easily reminded of the similarities between the P-8A Poseidon and its commercial counterpart, the Boeing 737. Right down to the familiar "ding" as the fasten seatbelt light comes on before the throttle is pushed forward and the plane starts barreling down the runway.

The Navy's newest aircraft in the arsenal of anti-submarine warfare platforms, the P-8A participated in the seventh annual ASW Fleet Challenge, held at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.

"The P-8 Poseidon's primary mission is anti-submarine warfare, as it was with the P-3, and that's what the Navy purchased this aircraft to do, but significantly the P-8 is broader multi-mission capable," said Capt. Curt Phillips, the commanding officer of the Pro's Nest of Patrol Squadron (VP) 30. "The core mission being ASW, but from a multi-mission perspective, you can see it doing anything from search and rescue ... to just doing surface search battle group operations where it's protecting the battle space around a carrier. It has a lot of different missions it can do with different sensors that can be interchangeable, flexible for the fleet."

The Poseidon offers several upgrades from its predecessor the P-3C Orion, allowing aircrews the ability to more efficiently complete its mission. The Poseidon will eventually replace the aging Orion, which has been a staple of the Navy's anti-submarine warfare mission since the 1960s.

"The Poseidon can get out on station much faster at dash speeds up to 490 knots, giving it significantly lengthier times on station and in-close prosecutions, or go longer range and have significant time equivalent to the P-3 to dwell and do what it needs to do on station," said Phillips.

Once in a search area, the P-8A and P-3C aircrews deploy many of the same techniques in their effort to locate and track submarines. However, the P-8A has the ability to use newer technology to enhance its search efforts.

"We lay patterns of sonobuoys out and we listen for the sounds of submarines, and from that [perspective] it brings you in closer, and you're able to start to track whatever submarine source you're hearing," said Phillips. "Very traditional methods, but advanced technologies, allow us to do it a lot faster and a lot better."

Many of the pilots aboard the Poseidon began their careers on the Orion. While their jobs remain the same, the P-8A has changed the way pilots fly.

"It's heavily reliant on automation, so that's another significant feature that we have to work on with our pilots and get them used to, especially the ones that transitioned from the older P-3 Orion to the Poseidon," said Phillips. "All in all, the planes are built to offer you a lot of automation, tactically and in transit, and those things equate to a lot more time spent operating the aircraft tactically, and [that] lets you spend your time doing the things that count while on station, rather than worrying about just manually flying the aircraft."

This year's ASW Fleet Challenge, also known in the maritime patrol community as the ASW "rodeo," featured seven aircrews, three aboard Poseidons and four flying the Orion.

"We bring the best of the best together to compete in an ASW rodeo so that we can highlight the training that's been going on across the fleet," said Cmdr. Mike Granger, the officer in charge of the Navy's Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Weapons School. "It's [our] chance to put them through their paces in the latest things that have developed over the previous year."

Since the inception in 2007, Fleet Challenge has only highlighted the best of the best, as fleet aircrews must have competed at the command and airwing level in their own local competition prior to coming to this final premiere event, said Granger.

Crews were evaluated in a simulator scenario and actual flight operations against USS Springfield (SSN 761), which acted as an opposing force. This year's competition tested aircrews on mission planning, optimized tactics, crew training and implementation of past lessons learned to determine the most effective maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircrew.

"What we try to incorporate are things that we've seen, things that have challenged our actual crews deployed around the world, and we incorporate those into the scenarios," said Granger. "We have the simulator scenarios built around recent world events. We have the submarine challenge them in ways that we've seen actual submarines on deployment behave, and we're able to put those together for these crews to experience, bring back to their home squadrons, and spread that training out."

This year's winners were the allied P-8A Poseidon aircrew from the Pro's Nest of Patrol Squadron (VP) 30, followed closely in second place by VP-4 Skinny Dragons flying the P-3C, and third place taken by a VP-5 Mad Fox crew in a P-8A.

"Fleet Challenge was a great, challenging experience and a superb opportunity to fly together as a British crew on a real submarine target," said Royal Air Force Master Aircrewman Mark Utting from VP-30. "As with all anti-submarine warfare flights you have to remain flexible, and the submarine never does what you think it will. That being said, we had planned for all eventualities and the sortie went well."

The allied aircrew from the Royal Air Force work as full-time instructors at VP-30, training crews in the fine art of anti-submarine warfare both in the classroom and in the air.

"Our allied crews often bring years of continuous ASW experience to the training equation in the classroom and in the air," said Phillips. "This is precisely why we have them embedded in our Fleet Replacement Squadron, training our newest operators in the art of ASW, which is a perishable skill without continuous honing in both simulators and on actual live targets."

"Any time we have our foreign partners able to compete with us, we learn something. They do things maybe a little bit differently," said Granger. "From maybe just the way that they coordinate a crew, to the way they mission plan or actual procedures for tracking the submarine - that is the biggest thing we learn with having them with us, and we throw in the camaraderie and the ability to talk across the water, if you will, with our partners. It builds those bonds that we can go and continue to learn from."

While the P-8A Poseidon may have been born from a commercial jet, taking two of the top three spots in the Fleet Challenge, it's now flying low above the oceans of the world in search of foes as the Navy's newest anti-submarine warfare aircraft.