EP-X: Is the USN looking to downgrade?

There was a time (about a year ago, in fact) when I thought EP-X was going to be a very exciting adventure in military acquisition. It appeared to my eyes that the US Navy was setting the stage for another epic competition between a Boeing commercial aircraft derivative and a Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team offering an Airbus A321.

Even as the USN alerts industry that a request for information is coming soon, I know that those days are over. It seems almost quaint these days to expect a platform battle for a new-start, multi-billion dollar contract. Where once Northrop and EADS executives spoke boldly of an A321 bid for EP-X, there is now not even a whisper. Where I once imagined an easy victory for an “EP-8″-based concept, I’m no longer even sure the USN has the budget or the patience for even that.

There was the revelation last week that the advanced airborne sensor (AAS) — Raytheon’s secretive successor to the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) — is destined not for an EP-X bid, but for the P-8A Poseidon itself. Like the LSRS before it, the AAS is more than a sensor upgrade. It introduces an entirely new mission set — intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting. That is mission territory formerly occupied solely by the US Air Force with the E-8C joint standoff attack radar system (JSTARS), and encroaches on the capability turf of the Northrop Grumman/Raytheon multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP). 

Recent comments by USN officials and EP-X program insiders also portray a new spirit of caution for an EP-3 replacement program. USN Rear Adm Allen Myers, director of naval warfare integration, made this point about EP-X during a Congressional hearing on 19 May.

Currently we are undergoing an analysis of alternatives to determine whether or not a follow on EPX would be a manned replacement platform or an unmanned or distributed platform or a series of family of platforms.

Sothat analysis is ongoing and that’s an issue for F.Y. ’11 and POM ’12to make sure that we understand and are focused on and funded so thatif it is a follow-on platform then we can program for it and make surethat it’s mature enough before we sunset the EP-3.

Andif the decision is to re-man the EP-3 and keep it in the same mannedplatform, then we need to make a decision by POM ’14 so that we cantake advantage of some of the zone five kits, SSIK and the outer wingwork that we’ve been doing for the EP-3. [Emphasis added.]

Re-manufacture the EP-3E ARIES II? When did that option become a serious alternative?

Also, consider these remarks by Kerry Rowe, president and chief operating officer, of Argon ST, a key partner on Boeing’s EP-X supplier team, as he answered questions from financial analysts on May 6:

I absolutely believe thatthere are alternative CONOPS and alternative combinations of platformsthat are being evaluated. You probably know that Undersecretary [Ashton] Carterhas been confirmed and he has now come in, replacing Mr. [John] Young. Ifirmly believe he is looking at both ACS and EPX,looking at both constellations of manned and unmanned platforms, andtrying to understand as he looks at these two manned jet platforms thatthere are other combinations of systems that might do the trick.

Carter’s predecessor as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, John Young, clearly set the tone for the current discussion about both EP-X and Aerial Common Sensor (ACS). He told reporters last November:

These airplanes on an aggregate cost, I guess a procurementaverage unit cost where you include the development and the purchase price are$500 to $700 million airplanes.

How many times can the department buy in pockets of 20, 30,40, 50 airplanes worth of capability for $20 to $30 billion? I think those arethe kind of issues that are getting attention right now and will continue toneed attention.


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One Response to EP-X: Is the USN looking to downgrade?

  1. Matt 6 August, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

    That’s too bad. A more complex EP-X sounds like a fun program to work on.

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