The U.S. Navy awarded Boeing a $1.5 billion production contract for the next 18 P-8A Poseidon aircraft. The contract includes eight aircraft for the U.S. Navy, six aircraft for the Republic of Korea Navy and four aircraft for the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
The Republic of Korea Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force acquired the aircraft through the Foreign Military Sales process and will receive the same P-8A Poseidon variant designed and produced for the U.S. Navy. The Royal New Zealand Air Force is expected to begin receiving aircraft in 2022 and the Republic of Korea Navy is expected to begin receiving aircraft in 2023.
The P-8 is a proven long-range multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft capable of broad-area, maritime and littoral operations. A military derivative of the Boeing 737 Next-Generation aircraft, combines superior performance and reliability with an advanced mission system that ensures maximum interoperability in the battle space. The P-8 is militarized with maritime weapons, a modern open mission system architecture and commercial-like support for affordability. The aircraft is modified to include a bomb bay and pylons for weapons. It has two weapons stations on each wing and can carry 129 sonobuoys. The aircraft is also fitted with an in-flight refuelling system.
With more than 254,000 flight hours to date, the P-8A Poseidon and P-8I variants patrol the globe performing anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; humanitarian; and search and rescue missions.
The P-8 is being operated in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and shipping interdiction roles. It is armed with torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and other weapons, and is able to drop and monitor sonobuoys, as well as operate in conjunction with other assets, including the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
February 2012, the P-8 made its mission début during "Bold Alligator" 2012, an annual littoral warfare exercise. In April 2012, it took part in Exercise Joint Warrior, flying out of RAF Lossiemouth. During RIMPAC 2012 in the Hawaiian area, two P-8As participated in 24 scenarios as part of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VX-1) while forward deployed to Marine Corps Base Hawaii. On 29 November 2013, its inaugural deployment began when six aircraft and 12 air crews of squadron VP-16 departed its home station of NAS Jacksonville, Florida, for Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. This deployment was a pre-planned regional re-balancing action, but occurred shortly after China's establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, heightening tensions.
During exercises in 2012 and 2013, and a deployment to Japan, the P-8 reportedly exhibited radar, sensor integration, and data transfer problems, leading to additional testing. In January 2014, the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation office called the P-8A "ineffective" for large area ISR and ASW missions, and said that it was not ready for deployment. The same report found that the P-8 was effective at the small-area search mission, and with much better range, speed, and reliability than older aircraft. Pentagon acquisition under-secretary Frank Kendall disputed the report, saying that although its findings are factual, it did not acknowledge future capability upgrades for anti-submarine and wider-area surveillance.
A second squadron, VP-5, completed its transition to the P-8 in August 2013. During mid-2014, a pair of P-8s were dispatched to Perth, Australia for two months for an international search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In 2 October 2015, USN P-8s stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, alongside U.S. Coast Guard HC-144A Ocean Sentry, HC-130H and U.S. Air Force Reserve HC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft, searched the Eastern Caribbean Sea for the missing SS El Faro cargo ship that sank on 1 October in the Category 3 Hurricane Joaquin near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. On 20 February 2018, a P-8 of the "Fighting Tigers" of Patrol Squadron Eight (VP-8) rescued three fishermen whose vessel had been adrift in the South Pacific Ocean for eight days, deploying a search and rescue (SAR) kit containing supplies and communications equipment, the first time that a P-8 deployed a SAR kit in a real operation.
On 19 August 2014, a Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighter came within 30 feet of a USN P-8A of VP-5 "Mad Foxes" about 135 miles east of Hainan Island while patrolling the South China Sea. The J-11 flew past the P-8's nose and performed a barrel roll at close proximity. A Pentagon spokesperson said the J-11's unit had made close intercepts earlier that year. The U.S. sent a diplomatic note to China about the behaviour of the Chinese fighter group's commander. China stated that the claims were "totally groundless", and that the root cause was U.S. surveillance of China; the U.S. stated it will continue to operate in international airspace and waters. In November 2016, a Russian Su-30 fighter intercepted a P-8 operating over the Black Sea, coming within 5 feet of it, forcing the P-8 through its jet wash, causing "a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence".
USN P-8s routinely rotate through bases of allies. In September 2014, the Malaysian government offered the use of bases in East Malaysia for P-8s, but no flights have yet been approved. On 7 December 2015, P-8s were deployed to Singapore as part of a Defence Cooperation Agreement between the US and Singapore for "fighting terrorism and piracy". China criticized the Singapore deployment as "regional militarization by the U.S.". The third detachment of two P-8s based in Paya Lebar Air Base, Singapore, participated in naval military drills with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in mid 2016.