US Navy search for Lockheed Martin P3 Orion replacement prompts flurry of offers as coastal patrol market swells

Interest in the US Navy's Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) has prompted a UK Ministry of Defence suggestion that the planned Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion replacement be the basis for an international collaborative programme loosely modelled on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The MoD's BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 integrated product team has proposed a "maritime JSF" type initiative to its US counterpart. "The suggestion made by the team lead, looking at the burgeoning worldwide market for MPA [maritime patrol aircraft], including the Germany/Italy bilateral agreement, the Japanese and Australian requirements and probably others, is that there is an advanced and mature product ready," says Cdr Al Easterling, USN MMA lead.

The Nimrod MRA4 is one of a number of P-3 replacement proposals. Other aircraft on offer include the Boeing 737-700 and a new-build version of the P-3. The USN expects to award initial component advanced development (CAD) phase contracts next month.

 At the conclusion of the 18-month risk reduction programme, a winner will be picked for a $3 billion system development and demonstration phase.

Australia has assigned a liaison officer to the MMA programme and will receive data during the CAD phase. "They want to contribute and feel they have special knowledge of the [Northrop Grumman] Global Hawk having participated in the Tandem Thrust exercise," says Easterling. A key MMA objective is airborne control of unmanned air vehicles, such as a proposed maritime Global Hawk.

USN officials will shortly hold a second meeting with the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force, which is pursuing an indigenous P-X replacement for its Kawasaki-built P-3s. "The intent is to preserve interoperability with an eye to where we would possibly collaborate in mission systems and that would be the next logical step. We've made industry aware of what we're doing for them to establish appropriate teaming relationships," says Easterling.

There has also been consultation with Germany and Italy, which are jointly selecting a new MPA, while other P-3 operators including the Netherlands and Norway have expressed interest.

"I think international MMA collaboration is likely in some form," says Easterling.

Source: Flight International