Atlantique Replacement Up in the Air

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

As Mark Twain said upon reading his obituary, “The stories of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Similarly, the steadily improving world economy may help resolve conflicting stories about the status of the replacement aircraft for the German-Italian Atlantique. In July, EADS-Alenia (Essex, UK), Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD), Boeing (Chicago, IL), and L-3 Communications (New York), were preparing to responded to the German/Italian request for a Maritime Patrol Aircraft Replacement (MPAR). The bids were to be evaluated this summer, with Germany indicating an interest in buying 10 to 12 aircraft for $ 1.4 billion. Italy indicated plans to buy up to 14 planes.

However, Defense News recently quoted one Italian official as saying that Italy will not extend the memorandum of understanding that expired in June, but rather, Rome would join the US Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) project. Similarly, German officials have not officially replied to the US’ inquiry about their interest in MMA, and were quoted as seeking other choices besides MPAR or MMA to replace their Atlantique-1 aircraft. These might include purchase of newer Atlantique-2 aircraft from France, purchase of P-3 aircraft from the US, or creation of a German-Dutch Maritime Patrol Wing (The Netherlands also flies the P-3).

Dave Sloan of Boeing Corp. told this reporter that his company has decided not to pursue the MPAR RFP so as to concentrate upon MMA. However, Jack Crisler, MPA Program Business Manager, Lockheed Martin, told me that his company is going ahead with a bid for an updated P-3C, dubbed the “Update 3+,” referring to the fact that the latest version of the P-3C flown by the US Navy is the Update 3. The US Navy P-3C Update 3 is equipped with the AN/ALQ-78 ESM, AN/APN-227 synthetic aperture radar, AN/ALQ-158 phased array sonobouy processor/receiver set, and AN/UYS-1(V)10 signal analyzer detecting set. The “3+” would include updated cockpit and mission systems specifically for European needs and would involve constructing up to 26 aircraft at Lockheed’s Marietta, GA, plant, with many subassemblies coming from other US and European providers.

Regarding the option of waiting for the MMA Program to produce its first operational aircraft within the next ten years, Crisler noted that, while interim updates can be created, such are not cost-effective. Further, corrosion and airframe fatigue problems will almost certainly ground the Atlantique-1 well before the MMA becomes available. Even the latest Atlantique-2 aircraft are 12-16 years old. Then, too, even if Europe opts for the MMA, it is certainly going to have to wait for the US Navy to meet its demands before any such aircraft are sold to Italy or Germany, and then still pay more than twice what it would have cost to go with the MPAR Program. So a more realistic timeframe for MMA first availability to Europe is 2015-2018. Yet another option open to the Europeans is another page from the MMA playbook: an increased dependence upon unmanned aerial vehicles to perform patrol duties, though how UAVs will fit into the MPAR mission plan remains undefined. Similarly undefined is how Italy and Germany plan to make the switch from deep-water ASW to the new world of shallow-water, littoral ASW -- a whole new ball game requiring different mission systems and platforms.

Further clarification is expected within the next several months, and The Nav Log will be there.

Despite rumors of cancellation of the European MPAR, Lockheed Martin is proposing an upgraded P-3C “Update 3+.” (pic: US Navy)