Airbus Defence & Space is advancing plans to adapt the top-selling A320 for a broad range of military applications, with the need to replace ageing maritime patrol aircraft fleets in Europe driving early activities.

The company is using the Farnborough air show to outline the potential of its planned modular multi-mission product – dubbed the A320M3 – in roles that could also cover airborne early warning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and signals intelligence-gathering.

A leading application could come via a Franco-German requirement to replace the nations' existing Dassault ATL-2 Atlantique and Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion platforms. The partners earlier this year confirmed their intention to pursue a future maritime airborne warfare system, to enter use from around 2035.

"We are at the beginning of understanding exactly what that common requirement could be, but believe we have a platform which can easily be turned into a system which can match it," says Airbus Defence & Space head of strategy Antoine Noguier. Beyond the needs of the European partners, he sees "a huge requirement with regard to replacing old maritime patrol aircraft", including those with other NATO nations.

"If you look at our portfolio, we have a very successful C295, which we turned into a very cheap, reliable multi-mission aircraft, and then we have the A330, which is a tanker but can do much more," Noguier says. "We have a gap in between, and we believe that the A320 can nicely fill this gap."

"In the past, we have been trying to promote the C295 maritime patrol aircraft in different parts of the world. Frequently, we come to the point where the C295's legs are too short: some nations need a bigger platform," says head of military aircraft Fernando Alonso. "Why not use the availability, reliability and simplicity of the A320 and build more capabilities on it?"

Internally funded design studies are under way and the company expects to receive its first financial backing soon from the French and German governments to advance the activity.

Alonso says Airbus is also assessing whether to best serve the market by offering new-build Neo aircraft, or offering conversions of second-hand airframes. Key questions facing the company include where to perform such modification work, and conducting design studies on integrating a bomb bay and other sensors onto the narrowbody.

The A320M3 will enter the market after Boeing's 737NG-based P-8A Poseidon. The maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare derivative has already entered use with the US Navy and Australian and Indian militaries, with other future operators to include New Zealand, Norway and the UK. An AEW version of the 737 has also been delivered to the air forces of Australia, South Korea and Turkey.

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