DUBAI – As the UK considers how to fill its maritime surveillance gap, Lockheed Martin is pitching a modified version of its C-130 multi-mission aircraft as a cheap alternative to Boeing's costly P-8 Poseidon.
The UK is currently weighing whether to buy the P-8 after the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review scrapped plans to buy BAE Systems' long-delayed Nimrod MRA4 jet. With the release of the new SDSR just a few weeks away, Lockheed representatives told reporters Nov. 9 the company could modify the UK's 10 existing C-130s to fulfill the submarine-hunting mission at significantly lower cost.
Lockheed pitched the idea to the UK Ministry of Defence about 18 months ago, according to Peter Ruddock, business development director for the company’s UK contingent. Lockheed has done 90 percent of the work necessary to re-purpose the aircraft to fit the maritime surveillance mission, he said. The last piece of the puzzle is integrating the submarine-hunting torpedoes onto the aircraft, a project company engineers are currently working.
Lockheed's solution will be about 40 percent of the price of the competition, Ruddock said, estimating that the team could get the first four aircraft to full capability in just 41 months.
Lockheed is proposing equipping the UK’s existing C-130 with the mission system developed for the Merlin naval utility helicopter, which is capable of anti-submarine warfare and medium-lift transport, Ruddock said. Lockheed would equip the aircraft with submarine-hunting torpedoes, as well as sonobuoys and life rafts. The aircraft also has advanced EO/IR sensors to detect hostile submarines, he added said.
The project also would also create jobs in the UK, as 80 percent of the work could be done in-country, Ruddock said stressed.
"We're not knocking the P-8," Ruddock said. "I think what we are saying is we can give you P-8-type capability at a much lower cost point because you already have the airframe."
The UK MOD "rigorously" examined Lockheed's proposal, and concluded that the project is "credible," Ruddock said. However, he emphasized the government has not yet set its new requirement or placed any orders for Lockheed's proposed planes.
On the other hand, Boeing officials say the P-8 is a more cost-effective solution for the UK at the end of the day.
The cost of the P-8 has come down 30 percent, James Detwiler, Boeing’s director of business development for maritime programs, told Defense News on Monday. It is 75 percent cheaper on a cost-per-hour basis to operate the P-8 than the legacy aircraft it is replacing, he said stressed. Additionally, he said, In addition, he noted that if a foreign nation coordinates its buy with the US Navy’s, both can benefit from the economy of scale.
Many nations are finding that reconfiguring existing aircraft for maritime patrol is actually cost prohibitive, Detwiler said emphasized. This option ultimately proves more expensive than buying a new aircraft because of increased life support costs for aging airplanes. Another disadvantage is the legacy aircraft can’t adapt easily to new technology, he said added.
Fred Smith, Boeing's director for global sales and marketing, said the P-8 is cost effective and low risk. However, he acknowledged certain countries that don't need anti-submarine warfare capability might choose Boeing's smaller, cheaper Maritime Surveillance Aircraft.
The P-8 is not the right solution for every country, he said during a briefing at the air show.
"We know there is a set of countries that need to do long-range, armed, anti-submarine warfare … they need to protect their strike groups, their carrier battle groups, they need to project power, they need to defend their territories at sea and beyond," he said. "There are other customers that are looking for other capability, non-anti-submarine warfare, non-armed capability, and we have that on our Maritime Surveillance Aircraft."
Boeing anticipates selling 100 aircraft internationally over the next ten years, Smith estimated.