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Report | June 10, 2013

The Navy P-8A Poseidon Aircraft Needs Additional Critical Testing Before the Full-Rate Production Decision (Redacted)


What We Did

We evaluated whether the Navy addressed potential risks and increased its flight hours to fully assess system reliability as the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) advised at the low-rate initial production (LRIP) decision in August 2010. The overall expected cost for developing and procuring the P-8A Poseidon is $33.5 billion.

What We Found

The program manager for Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (the program manager) effectively addressed the potential risks and flight hour concerns of the DOT&E at the LRIP. However, as discussed below, additional critical testing should be completed before the full-rate production (FRP) decision.

The program manager planned the FRP decision review to occur in July 2013, before testers complete testing needed to demonstrate that the P-8A Poseidon airframe can meet life expectancy requirements. The program manager delayed life expectancy testing in reaction to funding constraints and testing priorities. The program manager also did not correct known system deficiencies, about which the DOT&E and Joint Interoperability Test Command officials had expressed concern, before conducting Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E). This occurred because the Chief of Naval Operations accepted the risk of granting the program manager temporary waivers from correcting the deficiencies to allow the program to enter into IOT&E, while not having to fully correct the deficiencies until after the FRP decision. Finally, the program manager deferred completing mission testing in response to fleet commander concerns regarding maintaining on-time delivery of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

A decision by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to acquire the first FRP lot of 13 P-8A Poseidon aircraft (at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion) based on incomplete test results could result in costly retrofits to meet lifespan and mission and system performance requirements.

What We Recommend

We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics award an additional low-rate initial production lot for the P-8A Poseidon aircraft in July 2013 and defer the full-rate production decision for the P-8A Poseidon program until the program manager for Maritime Surveillance Aircraft demonstrates: the airframe can achieve the required 25-year lifespan without succumbing to structural fatigue; testing has resolved mission limited deficiencies; and the aircraft can perform its primary missions, including anti-surface warfare.

Management Comments and Our Response

The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics comments did not agree or disagree with the recommendation. Therefore, we request the Under Secretary provide additional comments by July 10, 2013. We also received unsolicited comments from the Department of the Navy.

This report is a result of Project No. D2012-D000AE-0176.000.