Lockheed Martin says combining new assemblies with existing airframes would deliver required cost savings

Lockheed Martin is considering a hybrid approach of focused production to meet the US Navy's requirement for a Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA), which would retain some of the P-3C Orion airframe, combined with new-build structural assemblies and modern avionics.

Under the ongoing component advanced development contracts, "we've been asked to focus on a broad range of solutions and everything is up for evaluation", says Jack Crisler, Lockheed Martin maritime patrol aircraft campaign director. The focused production concept under consideration falls half way between the all-new Orion 21 and a service life extension of the P-3C/EP-3 fleet.

"New wings, cockpit and mission systems are a starting point," says Crisler, while other areas such as the fuselage, empennage, bomb bay doors and landing gear would be subject to trade studies. The wing, although new and possibly incorporating more corrosion-resistant materials, would be based on the current design. Unlike the rival Boeing 737-based concept, the P-3 has already been fitted for weapons with underwing hardpoints.

The aircraft would feature new mission systems leveraging off the current avionics improvement programme architecture and incorporating additional features such as unmanned air vehicle connectivity. Whether the aircraft would retain the Rolls-Royce T56 turboprop or switch to an all-new engine, such as the R-R AE2100 or Pratt & Whitney Canada PWC150, is the subject of affordability studies.

Focused production's chief attraction is cost, with many industry observers questioning whether the projected $3 billion MMA development budget is enough to produce a new aircraft. The other main advantage would be having an aircraft available for service by 2010, two years ahead of the latest projected initial operational capability and by which time a significant proportion of the Orion fleet will have exceeded their fatigue lives.

Cristler says the aircraft already meets the USN's requirements for range, time on station and weapons carriage and that focused production couldappeal to other P-3C operators unable to afford new replacements such as Australia, Canada and Italy.

Source: Flight International