BAE Systems is highlighting the availability of the Nimrod MRA4 as key in its bid for the forthcoming US Navy Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) programme. The aircraft will enter UK Royal Air Force service in August 2004, around the time the USN is expected to begin funding the MMA. The USN is due to release the MMA request for proposals early next year.

The navy says a US company must prime the contract, and Tom Nicholson, BAE Nimrod managing director, says of the company's search for a US partner: "We are talking to everybody and everybody wants to talk to us."

He adds that it will be difficult to select a commercial airframe and develop it into a maritime patrol aircraft, with a weapons bay, sonobuoy launch facilities, radar and other sensors, and to meet the USN's service entry requirements.

Nimrod MRA4s use the fuselages and vertical tails from in-service MR2s.If BAE's export attempts are successful, new fuselages would have to be built. Nicholson says: "We probably wouldn't open a line in the UK, as that would not interest the US government. We're more likely to align with a US company."


He would not favour a new fuselage design, but the engineering data would be transferred onto the digital system used to design the wings and new pressure floor for the MRA4, he adds. "We would, however, take advantage of the move to clean up the fuselage design," he says.

Meanwhile, development of the troubled MRA4 for the RAF is moving ahead with power due to be applied to the first aircraft this month, with installation of the new Rolls-Royce BR710 engine due in March and initial engine runs in August, followed by a maiden flight in September.

Source: Flight International