Norway has ordered five American P-8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft to replace six P-3 Orion and three DA-20 Jet Falcon aircraft. Like many NATO countries Norway felt little need to upgrade their ASW (anti-submarine warfare) aircraft. But now Russia has revived the Cold War and the Norwegians are responding. Until 2014 Norway planned to refurbish its P-3Cs so they could serve another 20 years. But once Russia began acting up, the more expensive option (P-8As) became more attractive. The two DA-20 aircraft are French business jets equipped for ELIMNT (intelligence collection) work. P-8As can also be equipped to handle that.
The P-8 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 far 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 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. 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-8A for Norway costs about $230 million each.
The P-8 entered service in 2013. The U.S. is buying 122 P-8s and already has over 30 in service. India has eight with four more on order. Australia has one in service and 11 more on the way. Britain has ordered nine and several other nations are now interested because users so far are satisfied with P-8 performance.