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EADS to offer A320 as P-3 replacement

European manufacturer has joined with Lockhead Martin to enter US maritime patrol aircraft contest

EADS and Lockheed Martin are joining to offer the Airbus A320 as an alternative solution to the US Navy's emerging Maritime Multirole Aircraft (MMA) programme, in what could expand into a much broader transatlantic strategic partnership.

The companies are expected to sign a deal shortly to propose a maritime-patrol variant of either the A319, A320 or larger A321 as a replacement for the USN's Lockheed Martin P-3C/EP-3, say European and US industry sources. The agreement could have wider applications, with EADS also seeking a US partner to act as prime contractor for other large aircraft programmes, such as the US Air Force's future Multi-Role Command and Control Aircraft and KC-X tanker.

Lockheed Martin previously had an agreement with Aerospatiale prior to the latter's merger into EADS to offer a tanker version of the A330. This and another tanker deal between Airbus and Raytheon based on the A300/A310 have lapsed as a result of the creation of EADS. The European company has been looking for a new US partner, and has voiced objections to US Congressional funding for the USAF to lease Boeing 767s without holding a competition.

As a non-US company, EADS is precluded from competing as prime contractor for the MMA, which is expected to kick-off in February with the release of a request for proposals (Flight International, 15-21 January). EADS Casa could offer its FITS tactical system selected for Spain's P-3 upgrade, but sources say the preference would be to equip the A320 with a US-developed mission suite.

For Lockheed Martin, the A320 provides a jet-powered alternative to its own modernised P-3 Orion 21, and allows the company to compete directly with Boeing's 737-700IGW-based MMA offering. Some in the USN would prefer a jet's superior high-altitude performance over a turboprop platform.

The navy's newly approved MMA acquisition strategy gives companies chosen to participate in the 18-month-long risk-reduction phase the option of exploring more than one solution during the first six months. The options would then be narrowed to a single solution per company on which bids would be submitted for a system demonstration and development phase starting in 2004.

EADS's tie-up with Lockheed Martin leaves BAE Systems struggling to find a US partner to produce the Nimrod MRA4 for MMA. BAE had been talking to Raytheon, but with the sale of its Greenville-based Airborne Integration Systems unit to L-3, the company's system business is looking to participate only as a subcontractor.

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