OAK HARBOR, Wash. – Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is becoming one of only two sites in the U.S. to host the U.S. Navy's brand new P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
Next week, the transition from the current P-3 Orion begins, and over the next three to three and a half years, NAS Whidbey will house six squadrons of P-8s, up from the current four P-3 units. The other Poseidon base is in Jacksonville, Florida.
To support the Boeing jets built in Renton and based on the 737-800 airliner, the Navy has invested $200 million in modified hangars and a brand new 103,000 square foot training building that houses seven full motion simulator for pilots. It also has fixed simulators for mission specialists, who will work at consoles and perform other tasks. The Navy is trying to save money by doing more training on the ground and not just in the air.
Once considered for closure in the 1990s under the Base Realignment and Closure program, NAS Whidbey has only grown and become more important to the Navy since. The base also hosts EA-18G Growlers, which are designed to confound and take out enemy radar and other electronics. The future of the Growlers is uncertain as the Navy awaits the outcome of an environmental impact study focusing on aircraft noise.
The Island County Economic Development Council says Whidbey is the largest employer in the county with some 10,000 jobs. Job numbers are expected to swell by several hundred during the transition, then settle back down to a higher headcount after the P-8 transition.
NAS Whidbey is also becoming the remote control center for the MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned aircraft or drone based on the U.S. Air Force Global Hawk. The actual drones won't be based at Whidbey, but at other bases and deployed overseas. The drone pilots will control the aircraft from Whidbey. The Tritons are said by the Navy to provide an operational and tactical picture of the maritime battle space.