Graham Warwick/ATLANTA

LOCKHEED MARTIN IS hoping that a US Navy large land-based aircraft (LLBA) study, due to begin in late 1997, will lead to an order for its upgraded P-3 Orion 2000, with deliveries starting in 2002-3. The study will re-examine plans to extend the service life of existing P-3Cs, then develop a new MPX maritime-patrol aircraft for service entry in 2015.

The company argues that replacing the P-3Cs with the improved Orion 2000 earlier than had been planned will save $12-15 billion. Savings will come from avoiding P-3 life-extension and MPX development costs, and from operating economies provided by the Orion 2000, says Rich Kirtland, vice-president for Government requirements, at Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems.

Kirtland says that the Navy will need only about 170 Orion 2000s to replace the 237 P-3Cs in service, because of the new aircraft's increased payload and range, and reduced crew and maintenance requirements. He calculates that six or seven Orion 200s can replace nine P-3Cs in a squadron, with a one-third reduction in maintenance manpower, to 200 people. In addition the Orion 2000 requires two pilots and a three-mission crew, compared with the P-3C's three pilots and five crew.

The Orion 2000 is a new-build aircraft, with a 2,270kg higher maximum zero-fuel weight than that of the present P-3 and improved corrosion protection. The aircraft is powered by four Allison AE2100 turboprops, providing a 30% cut in fuel consumption over the Allison T56-powered P-3. The Orion 2000 is being offered to the UK for its Replacement Maritime Patrol Aircraft requirement.

If Lockheed Martin wins the UK competition, Kirtland says, the US Navy will be offered a "green" aircraft, largely manufactured in the UK and equipped with a mission system, developed by GEC-Marconi Avionics.

Navy Orion 2000s would be assembled in the USA and equipped with US sensors. Under Lockheed Martin's proposal, the Navy would begin low-rate procurement of Orion 2000s before production for the UK ends in 2005.

Source: Flight International