WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy is expected toannounce soon that Boeing Co's P-8A aircraft, along-range maritime surveillance plane based on the company's737 airliner, is ready for initial operational use, sourcesfamiliar with the program said.
The Navy plans to buy 117 of the new anti-submarine andanti-surface warfare planes to replace its P-3 spy planes builtby Lockheed Martin Corp.
Boeing won the contract to build the P-8A planes in 2004 andthe plane had its first flight in 2009.
The Navy's declaration of "initial operational capability,"or IOC, will pave the way for the plane's first deployment inDecember, said the sources, who were not authorized to speakpublicly.
Boeing, which is also building eight of the new planes forIndia, will have a P-8A aircraft on display at the Dubai airshow that begins on Sunday.
The decision will enable the Navy to deploy it's first P-8Asquadron this winter for operational missions, said a Navyofficial speaking on background.
"This program milestone supports Navy plans and operationalforce structure for the maritime patrol community."
Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey declined comment on theexpected decision but said an announcement would come "verysoon."
"We have been working hand-in-glove with the Navy to helpprepare for the first fleet deployment," he said.
The P-8A had achieved IOC as planned when the program began,a rare feat for a major weapons program, Ramey said.
So far, under contracts awarded in 2011, 2012 and 2013,Boeing is building 37 P-8A Poseidon aircraft for the Navy. Ithad delivered 12 through October.
Boeing's P-8A program manager, Rick Heerdt, has said theprogram is meeting all cost and schedule milestones as thecompany ramps up production and airplane deliveries.
Boeing says the new aircraft will provide more combatcapability for the Navy using a smaller force and lessinfrastructure than the P-3s. The P-8As have an extended globalreach, greater payload capacity, higher operating altitude, andan open systems architecture that make it easier to implementfuture upgrades.
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