New design would give US Navy opportunity to revive signals intelligence capability

Lockheed Martin has prepared a payload configuration for the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) that would give the US Navy the option to re-insert a signals intelligence (SIGINT) capability into the programme. The service last September carved a requirement to replace its Lockheed Martin EP-3E Aries II fleet out of the MMA programme and attached the 14-19-aircraft order to a new maritime variant of the US Army's Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) programme.

The navy is seeking a roughly 100-aircraft MMA fleet to replace about 270 Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions used for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare duties. These will be assisted by an extended-range unmanned air vehicle purchased through its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programme, a request for information on which was issued late last month.

The USN will issue a request for proposals for the BAMS system in mid-year, with a contractor down-select anticipated in early 2005. Initial operating capability is planned around 2010.

Lockheed Martin's Orion 21 airframe, which is competing against Boeing's 737-800 with -900 wings, is based on the P-3C with new wings, engines, mission systems and propellers. Lockheed Martin revealed new details of its payload design, including a plan to provide universal workstations with at least Level 2 UAV control, during last week's Navy League-sponsored Sea-Air-Space 2004 Exposition in Washington, DC.

The company's baseline configuration includes five workstations, but has room to grow to eight consoles, says MMA business development director Jack Crisler. The provisions for extra consoles are included as a back-up measure in case the navy abandons its part in the ACS effort.

The company announced last December that its aircraft will be powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150 engines with Hamilton Sundstrand NP2000 eight-bladed propellers. Commercial regional jet operators using the PW150 reported a 99.96% on-time dispatch rate last month, says Crisler.

A decision in the $3.2 billion MMA competition is expected shortly after a review by the Defense Acquisition Board on 22 April.


Source: Flight International