The US Navy's Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) requirement for a Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion and EP-3E ARIESII replacement is expected to move forward with the anticipated release of a request for proposals (RFP) in the third quarter.

Following the submission late last year of four MMA studies, the USN is convening an industry day at the end of this month to outline its future plans. This and the results of an on-going analysis of alternatives are expected to culminate in an RFP leading to the fielding of a P-3C/EP-3E replacement by around 2014.

The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance study contracts reviewed a range of options, including remanufacturing P-3s, building new airframes, a new platform and using unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). Emerging USN thinking is understood to favour new aircraft, rather than renovating existing P-3/EP-3s.

Boeing is refining a proposed MMA derivative of its 737/BBJ. "The aircraft is a very good model to build on leveraging off the AEW&C [airborne early warning and control] platform," says Brian Flatly, Boeing MMA business development manager.

Lockheed Martin is pushing its Orion 21, a new-build development of the P-3 incorporating 25% more powerful turboprops, a two-man glass cockpit and an open architecture, fibre optic local area network backbone to the mission system, which has already been incorporated in the USN's P-3 "Hairy Buffalo" demonstrator.

The USN is enthusiastic about maritime surveillance UAVs, although it is unclear if it will issue a separate RFP. Northrop Grumman conducted a study using the RQ-1A Global Hawk, which has the advantage of long on-station endurance and high altitude performance, allowing extended-range sensor data relay.

"We concluded there was a potential role for Global Hawk. We're not proposing it as a P-3 replacement but as an unmanned adjunct," says Ernest Snowden, Northrop Grumman AEW/EW director of customer requirements. The Global Hawk's potential as an unmanned electronic surveillance platform has been further underlined by China's recent seizure of an EP-3E and its 24-man crew.

BAE Systems says it has also responded to a USN request for information issued last December on its Nimrod upgrade, based around a Boeing tactical system. The company could offer Nimrod's system package or new-build airframes if needed, says Robert Wise, BAE vice president programme development.

Source: Flight International