US Navy’s New Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft in Trouble?

According to at least one Washington source, the US Navy’s program to replace the P-3C – the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft Program – is facing deep cuts or even cancellation in the back-draft from the $60 billion Pentagon budget cut through 2011. To help pay for the ongoing War on Terrorism, programs just cranking-up or not yet delivered are first to be chopped in favor of funding existing systems and combat organizations.

As noted elsewhere on The Navlog, the Navy is not only cutting aircrew training but is looking at cuts in its DD(X), LCS, SSN-74, and LPD-17 programs – all to replace aging existing systems. USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), which was to begin a two-year overhaul in 2006, may simply be decommissioned, while CV(X) appears also on hold and the Marine’s V-22 aircraft may have funding halved.

In June, 2004, Boeing won the initial $3.9 billion contract for the cost-plus-award-fee contract for the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase of the MMA acquisition program. The first MMA was to have joined the fleet in 2012-2014, with the last P-3 to have been replaced by 2019. The MMA Program – to replace the Navy’s remaining 150 P-3Cs with 108 new aircraft plus an undetermined number of Broad Area Maritime UAVs -- was then estimated to be worth as much as $44 billion in the next twenty years when foreign sales were also factored in. Overwork of the P-3 fleet since 1991 has resulted in its logging twice its designed airframe life, with the Navy having had to prematurely retire 40% of the fleet in the past year and a half.

The Air Force is facing a similarly bleak outlook, with F-22 procurement perhaps being halved.

Neither the Navy nor Boeing would respond at this time to inquiries about the MMA's future other than to say that there has been no official word regarding any changes to the program at this time and that it would be inappropriate to discuss anything that is "pre-decisional" in current budget chages at this time.

Killing the MMA Program would leave the Navy to figure-out how to extend the service life of the P-3 even further. There is in the US inventory no other long-range maritime patrol and stand-off attack aircraft. While the Navy does have mothballed a number of P-3B and P-3A aircraft, updating either to current P-3C Update III standards would hardly be inexpensive, and the P-3A and early P-3B are restricted to lower take-off weights. The first P-3C entered the fleet in 1969 and the most recent are not much more spry. Like the B-52H, all 104 of which were built between 1961 and 1962, and which has been again extended in service until 2040, the P-3C may find itself plugging along for as long a time. That is potentially good news to Lockheed Martin, which lost the MMA bid to Boeing, but hardly for the US.

Will the MMA be shot-down by budget shortfalls?

The Nav Log