Lockheed Martin Aeronautics has begun briefing the U.K. and other governments over the possible formation of an international consortium to develop and integrate systems on a maritime patrol version of the C-130 Hercules. (Lockheed Martin UK)
LONDON — Lockheed Martin Aeronautics has begun briefing the U.K. and other governments over the possible formation of an international consortium to develop and integrate systems on a maritime patrol version of the C-130 Hercules.
The U.S. aerospace giant kicked off the new strategy within the last six weeks to get users with similar requirements to pool their efforts in a partnership involving governments and local industry.
Jack Crisler, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of new business on C-130 programs, said ideally the consortium would involve three or four nations that already have an indigenous industrial capability to undertake systems integration and some experience in maritime operations.
Company executives are in Britain this week briefing Ministry of Defence officials on the consortium option along with a range of other issues related to the C-130J. The aircraft is already operated by the Royal Air Force for airlift and other duties.
Britain controversially axed its entire fixed-wing maritime patrol capabilities in 2010 for budgetary reasons, but a decision on whether to eventually replace the Nimrod MRA4s is expected to be taken as part of the 2015 strategic defense and security review.
The executive said it was likely that any consortium would form from countries already operating variants of the C-130 or the company’s P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
“People who have an anti-submarine requirement in the world aren’t strangers to the mission, there is not really anybody new in the area. ... The customer set is our allies and the usual suspects. There is some obvious connection between countries who already operate P-3 or C130J and already have indigenous capabilities to maintain and modify the aircraft,” he said.
“One of the things we are talking about with some of our customer base is joining a consortium to develop requirements instead of us generating capability not based on any requirement whatsoever other than what we think the markets need,” he said.
Once the requirements have been agreed, the “idea is the initial modification to the aircraft with a trial kit installation would probably be done by us [Lockheed Martin] and subsequent modifications done by the indigenous industry,” said Crisler.
The scheme could accommodate country-specific requirements in terms of items such as avionics, mission systems and industrial participation, but Lockheed Martin is looking to use off-the-shelf technology to keep the offering affordable.
“Most of the systems already exist. What we want is to have as little development as possible so we can work the affordability angle. What we would like to do is integrate off-the-shelf systems into the aircraft,” said the executive.
Crisler said the Sea Herc offered considerably more persistence on station at a cost “significantly less than a P-8. ... If you compare where the other capabilities are out there north of $200 million for a flyaway unit cost we think we can beat that. The affordability equation is more than just aircraft acquisition, if they [are already an existing C-130 customer] and have maintenance and training in place that avoids a lot of the cost of a typical acquisition”, he said.
Lockheed successfully tried a similar consortium formula to sell F-16 fighter jets to a number of European nations. Executives here said the company had not tried the strategy in the maritime patrol or air mobility sectors previously.
The F-16 European Participating Air Forces deal eventually covered the air forces of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal in purchasing, updating and supporting their fast jet fleets in an enduring arrangement going back more than 30 years.
Lockheed has already sold a baseline maritime surveillance aircraft to the U.S. Coast Guard, but since last year has been touting a variant known as the SC-130J Sea Herc in the international market.
The Sea Herc is being offered in three capability levels starting with an unarmed baseline surveillance machine equipped with radar and electro optical/imaging infra red . Level 2 is an anti-surface warfare aircraft with external hard points for missiles, 30mm gun and other upgrades added to the basic configuration.
Top of the capability list is the anti-submarine Level 3 machine, which can also carry an acoustic processor, sonobuoy launcher, internal bays for up to six torpedoes and other enhancements.
Crisler said the anti-submarine variant offers the greatest benefits of a consortium approach.
“We have individual opportunities bilaterally with customers on Level 1 and 2 outside of a consortium arrangement, but when you start adding things like torpedoes and sonobouys [on Level 3] everybody has a little different technique they like to use and that’s where we would most want the collaboration,” he said.
“It’s a paper option, though several countries are interested in ASW capability but don’t necessarily want to pay for the full up P-8 capability and are looking for something a little more affordable. Hercules performs well and has the endurance and persistence of a P-3,” said Crisler.
The Level 3 capability effectively cross decks the technology previously offered by the P-3, which dominated the airborne ASW market for decades. The P-3 is being replaced in U.S. Navy service by the Boeing P-8, a militarized version of the 737 airliner.
Although Lockheed is also pursuing opportunities for other variants of the C-130J, notably for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work (ISR), the company is only using the consortium approach in the maritime market, said Crisler.
“Opportunities will be focused on MPA requirements, with the objective to get to Level 3 [anti-submarine]. Separate ISR opportunities will be worked one on one, unless there is a compelling business case,” he said.
Studies estimate there is a market for about 35-45 Hercules equipped for various missions over the next decade or so, but Crisler said that number would likely be exceeded once potential customers see what the aircraft can do in service.
Lockheed is already deep into negotiations with customers to get land and maritime patrol versions of the surveillance C-130 version into the international market. Both potential customers are in or around the North Africa region.
The maritime customer is looking for a capability similar to the C-130s delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard, but the land ISR negotiations involve a multimission aircraft with a sensor package including electronic support measures, long-range camera and wide bandwidth datalink.
Crisler said Lockheed Martin may not be able to reveal the name of the land ISR customer even when the deal is signed. The customer would be the first land ISR customer for the C-130J, he said.
Both deals would be bilateral and not connected to any potential consortium arrangements.