The Italian defence ministry is on the verge of deciding whether to award its maritime-patrol-aircraft (MPA)study contract directly to a consortium led by Italy's Alenia, or undergo a lengthy competitive process.

If the consortium is chosen without a competition, Italy could team up with Germany on a joint MPA study programme as early as March. Alenia, the most likely candidate to win the programme, regardless of whether a competition is held, would lead a team including Aermacchi, Datamat and SIA in the programme.

German systems house ESG says that it has already held talks with Alenia about a joint study approach. Thomas Linkenbach, fixed-wing-aircraft avionics project manager, says that "-everything is prepared and ready to launch". France and Spain have been given observer status, and Germany is hoping for an early decision by the Italian side.

ESG is leading a feasibility study for the German defence ministry, to be completed by the end of this year. The company is working with electronics firm AC & S, Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA), Daimler-Benz subsidiary debis Systemhaus and STN Atlas Elektronik.

The German navy has a requirement for around 12 aircraft to replace its Dassault Atlantic 1 fleet, which is to be phased out by 2010. Italy, which is to retire its Atlantic 1s at the same time, has a potential requirement for 16 aircraft.

Once the current study is completed, a project-definition phase will begin, running from 1999 to the end of 2001. Full-scale development is expected to start in mid-2002, with the production phase beginning two years later.

ESG says that the German navy plans to introduce its first planned MPA 2000 into service in 2007, with Italy following in 2008.

Requests for information have been issued to airframe and avionics firms in Europe, Israel and the USA for elements of the package.

The primary candidates for the airframe are Dassault, with its Atlantique Third Generation, and Lockheed Martin, with either the Orion 2000 or an improved P-3C Orion. USelectronics specialist Raytheon E-Systems has also been approached about a possible low-cost solution of refurbished P-3A and B variants of the Orion.

According to Linkenbach, the German navy wants an aircraft with a 1,110-1,165km (600-900nm) radius of action, which can spend up to 8h on station and which has a maximum mission endurance of 12-14h. While weapons options remain open, Germany wants to arm the aircraft with light torpedoes and medium- and long-range air-to-surface missiles.

Italy has an extra requirement for air-to-air weaponry, which would have to be a radar-homing missile in the class of the Hughes AIM-120 AMRAAM. This requirement means that the aircraft radar would have to have some look-up capability, which the Atlantique 2's retractable belly radome does not offer.

Radars under consideration include the Racal Thorn Searchwater 2000, the planned European ENR 2000 naval radar (under development by DASA, Fiar and Thomson-CSF), the Israeli Elta EL/M-2022A, the Texas Instruments APS-137 and the Telephonics APS-147.

Source: Flight International