Budget Concerns, Emerging Technologies Delay Atlantique Aircraft Replacement

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

Recently, Germany postponed until 2007 its decision on replacing the joint German-Italian maritime patrol aircraft, the Atlantique. Replacement of the aging aircraft had been in the works for three years, with France as a potential additional partner in a replacement platform. Germany's 16 Dassault-Breguet 1150 Atlantique aircraft (including four used for SIGINT) will reach the end of their operational lives in 2010, nearly 50 years since the baseline airplane entered service.

Since it would take the new MPA six years to go from approval to deployment, the new aircraft wouldn't be available until 2013. Cost to replace the Atlantique is estimated at 1.5 billion Euros. Italy is also becoming squeamish about a replacement by 2007 as it eyes possible alternatives in either the US' Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft project or surplus US P-3s.

As Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles (UCAVs) quickly become more capable, another possibility is replacement of the Atlantique EW variant with Euro Hawk, an RQ-4A ELINT variant now under development. An EADS ELINT payload – replacing the electro-optical sensor package already fielded -- was scheduled for testing aboard a Global Hawk for the end of 2002 in the US and subsequently in the spring of 2003 in Germany. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems (San Diego, CA) completed the payload integration tests in the summer of 2002.

As recently as July, Germany received replies to an RFP from Boeing Co.(Chicago, IL); Lockheed Martin Corp. (Bethesda, MD); and L-3 Communications Corp. (New York, NY). Both Lockheed and Boeing confirmed to this reporter that they were suggesting to Germany and Italy their variant to the US Navy's MMA proposal – Boeing a 737 variant and Lockheed a P-3 or P-7 variant (the P-7 a P-3 replacement cancelled by the US Navy as the Soviet Union disintegrated and many in the US Government got starry-eyed over the purported “peace dividend,” deciding that there would be no further need for a maritime patrol aircraft).

European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co. N.V. (Amsterdam) suggested a variant of the A-320 airliner. But bids were reportedly far above what Germany is prepared to spend as it and the rest of Europe fights its way out of a recession set against a backdrop of an increasingly uncertain 21st century threat picture.

This spring Germany will test Euro Hawk -- a variant of Global Hawk -- as a possible replacement for the Atlantique ELINT variant (pic: Northrop Grumman)