BAE pulls out of MMA competition

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PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC

Lack of US partner prompts Nimrod MRA4 withdrawal

BAE Systems has formally withdrawn from the US Navy's multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA) programme after failing to secure a local partner to support its proposed Nimrod MRA4 offering. It reduces the competition to just two bidders - Boeing with the 737 and Lockheed Martin pushing a new-build version of the P-3 Orion.

The USN last month awarded Component Advanced Development (CAD) contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but BAE declined a similar $7 million pre-development risk reduction and study contract until it could find a partner. The Naval Air Systems Command (Navair), however, stressed that with the 17-month CAD effort already under way, time was running out for BAE (Flight International, 17-23 September).

BAE subsequently gave notice that it no longer wished to compete for MMA. Although the UK-owned company is cleared as prime contractor, it recognised that political reality required a local partner to champion and ultimately build the Nimrod in the USA. "Our experience with the B-57 [Canberra], T-45 [Hawk] and AV-8A/B [Harrier] is that you just have to have the local clout to keep a programme alive," says a company executive.

Approaches were made to a number of companies, including General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, to team with BAE, but none were prepared to take on the political strength of Boeing or incumbent USN P-3C Orion supplier Lockheed Martin.

A perceived USN preference for a jet-powered P-3/EP-3 replacement, meant Lockheed Martin had also considered supporting the Nimrod MRA4 and a proposed tie-up with EADS on the Airbus A320, which was dropped in favour of sticking with the Orion 21 turboprop.

BAE's decision not to bid effectively eliminates the Nimrod MRA4 from other maritime patrol competitions as aircraft for the UK are based on rebuilding existing aircraft. Without a major order, it is unlikely an economic case can be made for new fuselage production.