Andrea Spinelli/GENOA

Preliminary studies into a joint German-Italian maritime-patrol aircraft (MPA) procurement project are to be submitted to the respective countries' defence ministries during the fourth quarter of this year, with a Common European Staff Requirement (CESR) expected to be released about 12 months later.

Italy's Alenia and German systems house ESG are working under study contracts to provide a database from which the two countries' navy operators will draft the CESR.

If the CESR is released by the fourth quarter of 1998, sources close to the programme say that the definition phase could get under way the following year. This would be followed by full-scale development in 2001, with the production phase of the programme getting under way in 2005. Deliveries to Germany would begin in 2007, with Italy's aircraft following a year later. Germany is looking to purchase 12 aircraft to replace its Dassault Atlantic 1s, while the Italian navy requires 16 aircraft to replace its own Atlantic 1 fleet.

Italy and Germany are keen to involve other European nations in the programme. As Spain holds observer status, becoming a full member in the programme is a possibility. There are also tentative plans to undertake the procurement as a European armaments agency project.

The two contenders to meet the project are the Dassault Atlantique ATL3 and the Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion. The latter is likely to be offered in a configuration similar to the Orion 2000, unsuccessfully proposed for the Royal Air Force's replacement MPA programme, won by British Aerospace with its Nimrod 2000. A version known as the P-3C Plus offers the engines of the Orion 2000, but is less advanced in other respects.

Sources close to the programme also suggest that there is the possibility of a link with France, at least at the mission systems level. If the ATL3 were to be selected by Germany and Italy, the resulting mission system would be selected by France as part of an upgrade to its Dassault Atlantique-2s. One proposal under consideration is the transfer by Dassault of the entire Atlantique production line to the two nations.

The requirement is for an aircraft capable of staying on station for a minimum of 8h at 1,500km (800nm), with a transit speed of 330kt (610km/h).

Within the Italian navy, there is greater emphasis on the aircraft having a full anti-surface-warfare and air-to-air capability than in German circles. This will see an Italian requirement for the aircraft to have a fully integrated anti-ship- missile capability. Development costs will be shared, although Italy will get at least 60% of production to reflect its larger offtake.

Source: Flight International