Lockheed Martin has detailed a proposal to supply former US Navy S-3B Viking anti-submarine warfare aircraft to the South Korean Navy.
The work would see 12 S-3Bs removed from long-term storage in the Arizona desert and updated with new equipment, says Clay Fearnow, Lockheed's director of maritime patrol programmes, who spoke to Flightglobal at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX).
Fearnow, a former S-3B pilot, says the type has a number of attributes that make it suitable for a return to active service. He says the type was retired mainly owing to the absence of a submarine threat to US carrier battle groups with the end of the Cold War, as well as the navy's desire to narrow the number of aircraft types operating from carriers.
Lockheed estimates that the S-3B airframes in storage still have around 10,000-12,000h of flying time remaining.
Fearnow says the aircraft's cockpits would not require upgrading, but that several systems would. The aircraft's magnetic anomaly detector would need to be updated from analogue to digital technology. Other work would involve the aircraft's sonobuoys and electronic support measures equipment. Given South Korea's interest in developing its aerospace capabilities, any work to upgrade the aircraft would all but certainly be undertaken there by the local industry.
The aircraft would operate with a four-person crew, and would be capable of carrying a mix of four torpedoes and/or anti-ship missiles.
Fearnow expects other systems integrators to bid for the S-3B refurbishment work should Seoul move forward with a formal request for proposals. However, he believes that Lockheed's long experience with the type puts it in a strong position for any requirement that could emerge. The US company has a significant amount of data about the jet, and conducted all major upgrades when the aircraft served with the USN, he adds.
Should a deal be concluded, which could occur as soon as 2017, the S-3B could re-enter service in 2019. The initial requirement for the type appears to be 12 aircraft.
Asked if it would make sense for South Korea to become the world's sole operator of a small number of bespoke aircraft, Fearnow says that 12 is probably the minimum size for such a fleet. Lockheed has held discussions with two other Asian countries regarding the S-3B, as well as one in South America.
Although the S-3B no longer serves aboard US aircraft carriers, the navy's VX-30 test and evaluation squadron still operates the type in support roles.
Sources at the ADEX show said that South Korea is increasingly concerned about the threat posed by North Korea’s submarine fleet, and that this is creating a requirement to complement the country’s fleet of Lockheed P-3C Orions.