Lockheed Martin is looking at potential modification of former US Navy S-3B Viking maritime patrol aircraft to take on overland surveillance and strike missions as a way of expanding market interest in the surplus type.

The USN is preparing to withdraw its last operational aircraft by February 2009, with previous disposal plans based on an "as is-where is" model. That option will remain available, says Thomas Lewis, director maritime surveillance enterprise at Lockheed Martin MS2 Tactical Systems, but consideration is also now being given to promoting the aircraft as a generic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset.

Speaking at the 11-14 September DSEi exhibition in London, Lewis said that Lockheed considers "overland border surveillance missions as a factor" in securing a new home for the aircraft. The Viking's existing weapons capability includes weapons such as Raytheon's AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile.

There are 107 ex-USN S-3Bs available, with these having an average of 12,000h left on their airframes. South-East Asian and Middle Eastern armed forces are seen as the most likely buyers, although some discussions have also taken place in Latin America, notably with Chile. Lewis said the type has also been discussed with Taiwan, but that its endurance of 4-6h was an issue for Taipei.

Noting that the S-3B has an operating cost of around $3,000 per hour, Lewis said he is "surprised that it hasn't taken off more quickly in the market".

Source: Flight International