WASHINGTON, 4 April 2013. Airborne weapons experts at the Boeing Co. got the go-ahead Wednesday to start building add-on kits for the U.S. Navy Mark 54 lightweight torpedo that will enable the weapon to glide through the air from altitudes as high as 30,000 feet and enable the Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol jet to attack enemy submarines from long ranges.
The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington announced a $19.2 million contract Wednesday to the Boeing Co. Defense, Space & Security segment in St. Charles, Mo., to design and build the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC) Air Launch Accessory (ALA).
The HAAWC ALA turns the Raytheon Mark 54 torpedo into a glide weapon that the P-8A aircraft can release from high altitudes. As the flying torpedo reaches the water, it jettisons wings and other air-control surfaces and takes on its original role as a smart torpedo that detect, track, and attack enemy submarines autonomously.
The Mark 54 always has been able to be launched from aircraft, but before the HAAWC add-on kit air crews had to release the torpedo from altitudes no higher than about 100 feet.
The HAAWC will enable the P-8A aircraft -- a Boeing 737 passenger jetliner modified for maritime patrol -- to maintain optimum surveillance altitudes without wasting the time and fuel necessary to drop to low altitudes to attack targets and then climb back to high patrol altitudes.
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Attacking from high altitudes also enables the P-8A to reduce the time between target acquisition and attack, as well as launch anti-submarine weapons outside the ranges of shore-based anti-aircraft defenses.
When launched from 30,000 feet the HAAWC-equipped Mark 54 torpedo will glide for seven to 10 minutes before entering the water.
While in flight the HAAWC will be completely self-contained. The HAAWC adaptor kit includes a flight control computer, a GPS-based navigation system, and power sources. When near the water the system sheds its wings and activates a parachute that lowers the torpedo to the water to begin its run toward the target.
HAAWC program requirements require Boeing to build an add-on kit that requires little or no modifications to the Mark 54 torpedo or to the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. Boeing's HAAWC contract includes options that could bring the value of the program to as much as $47 million.
Coincidentally, Boeing officials announced this week that they have handed over the seventh production P-8A Poseidon to the Navy on schedule March 29, marking the first delivery from the second low-rate initial production contract awarded in November 2011. The P-8 is scheduled to replace the ageing Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion four-engine turboprop maritime patrol plane.
The Mk 54 is an all-digital lightweight torpedo that has advanced software algorithms from the larger submarine-launched Mark 48 torpedo.
Boeing engineers reportedly will fit the Mark 54 torpedo with the wings designed for a Standoff Land-Attack Missile-Expanded Response cruise missile to enable to torpedo to glide to the ocean's surface. The HAAWC tail assembly is to include the guidance kit designed for the Joint Direct-Attack Munition (JDAM), which contains a GPS navigation system.
Boeing also could fit the HAAWC with a data link to transmit target position updates while in flight. Boeing will do the work on this contract in St. Charles, Mo., and should be finished by April 2016.