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Greek navy prioritises maritime patrol aircraft contest

Acquiring a new fleet of maritime patrol aircraft is now the top procurement priority for the Greek navy, with the nation's six Lockheed P-3B Orions nearing the end of their operating lives.

A €250 million ($342 million) budget has previously been identified to cover the purchase of a replacement fleet of five aircraft. But with the navy's requirement now covering a multirole type capable of performing maritime patrol, search and rescue and surveillance tasks and also equipped for anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare duties, industry sources say the deal's value could be set to increase.

Candidate systems now include special mission variants of the Alenia Aeronautica-promoted ATR 72, Beriev's Be-200 amphibian, EADS Casa's C-295 and Embraer's EMB-145 regional jet.

Lockheed P-3 Orion 

A previous US government offer to supply secondhand Lockheed S-3B Vikings has been rejected, along with a proposal from the manufacturer to upgrade Athens' existing P-3 fleet.

Alenia Aeronautica's ATR 72-based proposal will draw on elements of the anti-submarine warfare variant already sold to the Turkish navy and to enter service in 2010. Greece will be offered a tailored version of the design's Thales-sourced Amascos mission system, and the option to integrate undisclosed anti-ship weapons during the new contest, the company says.

Previously ordered by the Chilean navy, a maritime patrol development of the C-295 is being offered with the company's Fully Integrated Tactical System mission equipment. Beriev recently announced plans to sell a military development of the Be-200, citing interest from the Chinese and Russian navies.

Embraer's P-99 bid would offer airframe commonality with the Greek air force's four EMB-145-based airborne early warning and control system aircraft and EMB-135 transports. However, with the Brazilian company having previously sold only two EMB-145 maritime patrol aircraft to Mexico, Athens' multirole requirement represents a new and much broader mission set for the type.

"We believe a jet solution will be favoured," said Ricardo Marcelo Bester, Embraer's vice-president marketing and sales, defence and government market for Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the 7-11 October Defendory exhibition in Athens. Alenia Aeronautica officials counter that other recent acquisitions have favoured a turboprop solution, however.

Athens' current P-3s are assigned to the air force's 353 Sqn at Elefsis air base, but its navy is expected to form a new unit to operate the replacement fleet. The nation's defence ministry could launch a formal request for proposals for the deal within the next year, say industry sources.

Boeing does not expect to offer its 737-based P-8A multi-mission maritime aircraft, but is promoting a Boeing Business Jet solution for a separate requirement for three VIP and presidential transports.

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