By Robert Wall and David A. Fulghum
06/20/2004 04:14:14 PM
Boeing's win of the U.S. Navy's Multimission Maritime Aircraft is certain to significantly alter maritime patrol operations, but it is also spurring Navy and industry officials to consider complementary technology that could spell leap-ahead capabilities for the new surveillance aircraft.
Boeing bested incumbent Lockheed Martin for the development and procurement of 108 aircraft in large measure by being able to demonstrate to service officials that it could address concerns the Navy had earlier with the 737-800ERX offering.
When the Pentagon questioned Boeing's production line plans, the company changed them. Two years ago other Navy officials were worried that installing an internal weapons bay would be too difficult on the 737 because of twisting movements of the airframe that could produce structural fatigue. But, notes a Navy official, company and service engineers worked together and were able to stiffen the airframe enough to dispel concerns. Boeing's promise to deliver 737s early and avoid some P-3 maintenance costs also played in the company's favor.
Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher is largely credited with getting Boeing's commercial and military arms to work together despite their occasional sibling rivalry, according to former and current Boeing representatives. Under former CEO Phil Condit that cooperation wouldn't have taken place, notes a former member of Boeing's MMA team.
Another industry official with insight into the competition said the Boeing and Lockheed Martin offerings were close in price and capability, although Navy acquisition chief John Young notes that Boeing's was slightly cheaper. However, the industry official says Boeing's proposal was more polished and heavily promoted the fact that the 737 has a commercial base, promises low operational expense and offers advanced connectivity for network-centric warfare.
The aggressive strategy netted Boeing what is effectively a $44-billion program to develop, build and sustain the maritime patrol force. The initial development portion costs the Navy $3.9 billion, and includes about $314 million in incentive fees. The fly-away cost of each MMA will average $126 million, or about $190 million per aircraft if all expenses are amortized over the fleet.
A long-time Navy acquisition official and former program manager contends that industrial base considerations also played a role. "Boeing needed the work," he says, in large measure because "Lockheed Martin has all the big-ticket items right now." The win also provides an employee safety valve for Boeing, he contends. The company has overloaded the Army's Future Combat System program with employees they don't want to let go, including some formerly working on the Army's canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter. "This will give them a chance to shift some of those people to MMA," he says. Boeing also plans to add 1,600 positions across the country, says Jim Albaugh, president and CEO for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.
Although the near-term focus for the Navy is on the system design and demonstration phase (which calls for Boeing to build one MMA for flight handling tests and two additional aircraft with a full mission system), planners are starting to sketch their vision for how to gradually enhance the system. Better acoustic sensors, for instance, are on the agenda, as are new weapons. The Navy also would like to field a more modern torpedo on the aircraft, notes one service representative.
For some in the Navy, the decision to buy the 737 came as a surprise, in part because they contend "low-and-slow" missions performed by the P-3 can't be duplicated on the twin-engine jet. Detecting advanced-design, low-signature submarines involves the use of sensors that often must be operated from near the ocean's surface for long periods of time, the Navy official argued. "There are many missions, most of them not sexy, that the P-3 was good at and that the 737 may not do as well because its minimum speed at low altitude is too fast," he added. "There's been a big back-channel debate within the Navy about whether it was the right decision."
However, supporters contend that the Navy's need is for larger, sophisticated aircraft with the room to increase the crew size, payload and power. They could then serve as airborne nodes to analyze intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data direct from the battlefield without the time-consuming and communications-clogging option of sending it to facilities in the U.S.
ANALYSTS PREDICT that the Navy will look at several alternatives to do the "low-and-slow" segment of the anti-submarine warfare mission.
One option would be the service's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft program, which pits the Global Hawk against the Predator-B Mariner. Ultimately, it may prove to be too hard and too expensive to stage, launch and maintain on station all the necessary UAVs from shore bases, industry officials say.
A second choice, probably in the 10-15-year range, would be to develop a small UAV sized to be fired out the sonobuoy chute of the new patrol aircraft. Analysts contend, however, that the UAV would be too small to carry the necessary sensors or have the necessary endurance to prosecute a stealthy submarine. A third, longer term solution could be to convert P-3s, as they are retired, into long-dwell UAVs with the crew equipment and cockpits stripped to save tons of weight for additional fuel.
But first the Navy wants to see MMA developed. There is particular interest in whether Boeing can deliver on its promise to field MMA by 2012, a year earlier than initial projections, notes Young. In 2012, the Navy expects to have its MMA fleet replacement squadron--the training unit--and one deployable 737-800ERX detachment ready to go.
The key to a faster delivery is a Boeing move to build the MMA in parallel with the commercial 737. Boeing's Wichita, Kan., facility will build two fuselage types, regular 737-800s and, in special facilities that meet U.S. security restrictions, the MMA version. At the Renton, Wash., site where final assembly is done, the MMA fuselage will proceed down a parallel, but not integrated, line as the commercial 737s, again with a focus on preserving security demands, which include the use of only U.S. citizens on the Navy project. The details of how to set up the parallel lines are still being developed. MMA would then shift to nearby Boeing Field to be outfitted with the mission system.
The original MMA plan called for a commercial 737-800 to come off the line and then be sent back to Wichita where it would be rebuilt and strengthened for the Navy role, before moving on to Boeing Field. Navy officials argued that was too cumbersome.
Despite optimism about Boeing's ability to deliver MMA early, service officials plan to maintain a minimum number of P-3s, about 148, until the 737 enters service to ensure there are no warfighting shortages. Some of the sustainment money would be saved, however, if MMA shows up early. The Navy currently operates 198 P-3Cs.
A major decision point for the program comes in 2007 at its critical design review. The Navy would then decide whether to award the second stage of the development contract, under which Boeing would build four fully equipped MMAs for operational testing. The first MMA is scheduled to fly in 2009. The full-rate production decision would follow in 2013, although the Navy expects to have bought more than 30 MMAs by then. Low-rate production would start in 2010, says Tom Laux, the Navy's program executive officer overseeing MMA.
The sensor suite will be similar to the Navy's latest standard P-3s, with the largest benefit of the new system being that all sensors are to be closely integrated to produce a fused picture, a Navy official noted.
Raytheon is providing an upgraded version of its APS-137 radar, which provides synthetic aperture radar (SAR), inverse-SAR, moving target indication and periscope detection capability. Northrop Grumman is delivering the electronic support measures and electro-optical/infrared sensors. Boeing will be in charge of the acoustic processor, building on its experience with the P-3 and British MRA4, says Tim Norgart, Boeing's MMA program manager.
The system is likely to comprise about one million lines of software code for the basic architecture, with another million or so for the various applications to run sensors and perform the data fusion. The baseline architecture will use no proprietary code, Norgart says. Some configuration elements are still under discussion with the Navy, such as whether to employ a fiber-optic backbone that has long interested service officials.
MMA will also feature a directed, infrared countermeasures package, building on the Northrop Grumman system already used on Boeing's 737-based Wedgetail airborne early warning system. Norgart notes the system will likely be more modern, but will piggyback on the earlier work to avoid having to redo much of the systems integration.
Over the next several years, Navy officials will sort out the impact of operating a nine-workstation 737 compared with the 11-position P-3C. One service representative noted that the maritime patrol community won't necessarily shrink, however. Because the 737 has much higher reliability, two crews could be assigned to each aircraft rather than just 1.5 as is done today. Moreover, the community would likely furnish the personnel to operate BAMS system.
Boeing will add a tactical display to the commercial 737-800 cockpit, Norgart notes. The display will allow either of the pilots to tap into the mission system, including sensor cues such as the electronic support measures, to determine where threat systems may be located.
Navy officials will continue their effort to attract foreign partners. Australian military officials have closely monitored the program's progress, as has Italy (see story below). Moreover, since Boeing provides the mission suite for the beleaguered U.K. Nimrod MRA4, cooperation there may emerge. "Boeing offered us a substantial amount of lift or re-use of the development work that they had done [for the U.K.]," Laux notes. "There have to date not yet been any government-to-government discussions, although obviously the door is open to pursue that."
Japan is likely to jump on board, potentially discarding its indigenous P-X project, says the former MMA team member. The Navy and Japan already had agreed to cooperate on their mission systems to ensure interoperability, but that may now be extended to the aircraft.