Three-way fight to build US Navy EP-3 replacement

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Airbus, Boeing and Embraer may be among the competitors vying for a contract to build the US Navy's EPX manned surveillance aircraft, but foreign-owned firms may face restrictions in the competition.

Boeing previously has said it will offer the 737-based EP-8, but there is a new signal that Airbus is preparing to offer the A320 and Embraer may propose its 190 regional jet.

Representatives from each of the manufacturers attended a USN "industry day" on 26 October. Systems integrators, such as L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, also attended the event.

Navy officials briefed the attendees on plans for acquiring the EPX, which is scheduled to start replacing the Lockheed EP-3E Aries II fleet after fiscal year 2017.

All three manufacturers have been linked to recent acquisition programmes for USN surveillance aircraft.

In 2002, Airbus considered offering the A320 for the Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) contract, but ultimately chose not to. The navy selected Boeing's P-8A Poseidon for the MMA contract to deliver 108 aircraft up to FY2019.

The P-8A fleet is dedicated to the anti-submarine warfare mission. The objective of the EPX fleet will be to perform a mix of intelligence missions, from electronic eavesdropping to gathering moving targeting data on maritime vessels.

The USN originally planned to join the US Army to buy the Army Common Sensor, but dropped out after the sensor outgrew the army's selected platform - Embraer's ERJ-145 regional jet. The USN's withdrawal led to the requirement to launch the EPX programme.

The USN on 15 November issued the first call for potential bidders to submit EPX concepts as the service gathers information to develop specific requirements.

The so-called broad agency announcement warned that foreign-owned firms would be banned from competing as prime contractors, but could participate as subcontractors or suppliers, although "some restrictions will apply".

In response to a follow-up question submitted by an anonymous industry official, the USN said the programme "will consider all platform concepts with the potential to meet certification and performance requirements".

The USN estimates the first six years of the EPX programme will cost about $1.1 billion, including at least $728 million for research, development, test and evaluation.