A battle is brewing between Northrop Grumman and Bell-Boeing over the US Navy's nascent requirement to replace its ageing fleet of Northrop Grumman C-2A Greyhounds.
Bell-Boeing, with the strong backing of the US Marine Corps, is urging the USN to replace its C-2s with its V-22 Osprey tiltrotor. While the navy is officially on board to buy 48 Ospreys, the service has never found a niche for the machine nor has it allocated funding to pay for those aircraft.
For Bell-Boeing, an opportunity arose when a USN analysis of alternatives showed that the only suitable follow-ons to the Greyhound for the carrier onboard delivery (COD) mission were the V-22 or a modernised C-2. A draft request for proposal might be issued as early as 2014.
"The COD recapitalisation, that's sort of a good opportunity for the navy to really get involved with the V-22," says Joe Weston, Boeing's business development manager for the Osprey.
The V-22 and the C-2 have very similar range and payloads, Weston says. Moreover, not only can the Osprey deliver supplies to the carrier itself, but it will be able to transport those goods out to the rest of the vessels within the carrier strike group as needed, he says.
But Steve Squires, Northrop Grumman's C-2 programme director, says that a modernised Greyhound would be the most cost-effective solution for the USN.
"We think we have the best platform, the most capable," he says. "It's purpose-built to be a COD aircraft."
The C-2 has a range of over 1,300nm (2,408km) and is fully pressurised, allowing it to fly above the weather carrying 10,000lb (4,540kg) of cargo, Squires says.
Northrop Grumman, he says, is already producing new E-2D Hawkeye airborne early warning and control system aircraft, which uses an airframe that is mostly common with the C-2, apart from the Greyhound's more rotund fuselage. Producing a new C-2 is essentially just building a new fuselage while keeping the E-2 systems and empennage.
But while manufacturing a new C-2 would be easy, Northrop Grumman says it believes a modernisation strategy is the one to follow. Squires says that Northrop Grumman's incremental modernisation path would migrate upgrades from the E-2 production line onto the C-2, which would reduce the cost per flying hour of the aircraft and defer structural upgrades until absolutely necessary. When the time comes to upgrade the aircraft's structure, there would be many choices available because of the C-2's simple aluminium construction, he adds.