Poseidon enters service – P-8A for Norway

On 27th May 2022, with the arrival of aircraft 9586 to Evenes air base, Norway has received the fifth – and final – Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The new jets will replace the ageing fleets of P-3 Orion and DA-20 aeroplanes, and are expected to receive full operational status until 2026.

Between 1969 and 1979, Norway had acquired seven Lockheed P-3B Orion aircraft. They became the backbone of the country´s maritime aviation for approximately five decades, performing maritime surveillance duties and long-range reconnaissance, as well as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) tasks. In 1989, the Norwegian MPA fleet was enhanced by purchasing four P-3C aeroplanes. Then, between 1997 and 2000, all the P-3Cs were a subject of the Upgrade Improvement Programme and two P-3Bs were modernized into the P-3N standard – with remaining five P-3B sold to Spain.

Nevertheless, shortly thereafter, a debate on the purposefulness of keeping the MPA fleet active began. The currently operated P-3 Orion aircraft were more and more expensive to maintain and, in addition, activity of the Russian submarine fleet was then at the very low level. The latter has changed in the 2010s thus giving reasons to keep the Norwegian MPA and ASW capability at the high level. However, it was clear the country needed a new aircraft to succeed the fleet of ageing Orions.

In 2016, in the view of changes and growing instability of world politics, the Norwegian authorities significantly increased the country´s military budget. A substantial part of it was intended for purchasing new MPA and aircraft manufacturers were asked for submitting their offers.

Among the options considered by the Norwegian armed forces there were: Airbus C295 MPA Persuader, Boeing P-8 Poseidon and Sea Hercules, as well as Saab Swordfish system that could be implemented on Bombardier Q400 or Global 6000.

In 2017, it was officially announced that Norway is going to acquire a total number of five P-8A Poseidon aircraft, the MPA based on Boeing 737 civilian airliner. Deliveries of the new aeroplanes were scheduled until the end of 2022 and the date of achieving full operational status by all of them was set for 2026. At the time the sales agreement was signed, Norway was the eight country to purchase the Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft. According to official information released by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defence, the total value of the contract and implementation of the new aircraft was estimated for approximately 11 billion NOK.

P-8A 9586 ´Munin´ while landing at Evenes air base (Photo: Eskil Andreas Kjønstad Skjerve / Forsvaret)

It should be pointed that despite the coronavirus pandemic and related economic slowdown, the Boeing company managed to deliver all Norwegian P-8A aircraft in time and following the initial schedule. On 18th November 2021, the first aeroplane (9582) was officially handed over to Forsvarsmateriell, the Norwegian defence equipment agency, during a short ceremony held at Boeing´s aviation plant at Seattle. The Agency was then responsible for further transfer of the aircraft to the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNAF).

Interesting fact is that all Norwegian P-8A aeroplanes received their particular names, related to history of country´s maritime aviation and Nordic traditions.

The first of them was named ´Vingtor´, in honour of Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina operated during the World War II by so-called Catalina Division (Catalina-avdelingen), an independent Norwegian unit officially known as the 1477th (Norwegian) Flight. The Catalina known as ´Vingtor´ became then especially famous, due to clandestine operations flown to the shore of German-occupied Norway.

The second aircraft (9583) was named ´Viking´ – after another Catalina of the 1447th Flight – and was privileged to be the first Norwegian P-8A Poseidon to land at domestic airfield, as ´Vingtor´ stayed in the USA a few months longer, for training purposes. The ´Viking´ has landed at Evenes air base on 24th February 2022.

The third Norwegian P-8A (9584) was named ´Ulabrand´, being another reference to the Catalina Division and World War II years. The fourth (9585) and fifth (9586) aeroplanes are ´Hugin´ and ´Munin´, being the names from Norse mythology – Huginn (´thought´ in Old Norse) and Muninn (´memory´ or ´mind´) are mentioned there as the ravens travelling all over the world. Another interesting fact is that back in the 1990s the names ´Hugin´ and ´Munin´ were chosen for two Dassault Falcon DA20 ECM electronic warfare aircraft operated by the RNAF. According to official information from the MoD, as a consequence of the P-8A arrival, both of the Falcons are going to be retired until 2024. Nevertheless, for a certain time the RNAF will be operating two different type of aircraft but carrying similar own name.

P-8A 9584 ´Ulabrand´ during exercise Cold Response 2022 (photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)

All Norwegian P-8A Poseidon aircraft are operated by the 333rd Squadron RNAF, based at Evenes. Although it is carrying the same number as the squadron now based at Andøya and flying with the P-3 Orion aircraft, the Poseidon squadron is practically newly established unit. For a few years, both ´old´ and ´new´ 333rd Squadrons will be existing parallelly, to secure smooth implementation of the new MPA into the RNAF. Then, after successful introduction of the P-8A into operational service, the Andøya air base will be closed.

It should be also mentioned here that the 333rd Squadron is commonly recognized within the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces as the direct successor of Catalina-avdelingen and the 1477th Flight. Therefore, the unit will still continue the legacy and almost eighty years of history of maritime surveillance and ASW operations performed by the Norwegian units.

According to the schedule recently disclosed by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defence, from the beginning of 2023 the newly acquired P-8A Poseidon aircraft are going to take over all duties performed so far by the P-3 Orion.

The Boeing P-8 Poseidon is the aircraft initially developed for the US Navy, as maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The aeroplane was designed on basis of the Boeing 737-800ERX and performed its maiden flight on 25th April 2009.

The aircraft was already ordered or acquired by the US Navy, the Indian Navy, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the RNAF, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Republic of Korea Navy and the German Navy. Among countries that are considering purchase of the P-8A there are Italy, Canada, Malaysia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

´Munin´ and ´Ulabrand´ at Evenes air base (Photo: Eskil Andreas Kjønstad Skjerve / Forsvaret)

Cover photo: Boeing P-8A Poseidon 9586 ´Munin´ at the time of his first mission in Norway (Roger Søreng / Forsvaret). All photos © Royal Norwegian Armed Forces / Forsvaret. Information from the Royal Norwegian Armed Forces press materials were used.