Future Maritime Patrol – Back to the future P1


Whilst reading TD’s excellent series about our possible maritime patrol choices my mind was taken to one of my favourite films out of the 80’s “Back to the Future”.

When looking at each article TD has put up looking at each current choice from each angle it did amuse me that if we borrowed Doc Brown’s Delorean or in TD’s case a Shipping Container fitted with the Flux Capacitor, a lightning rod and a rocket booster to get it up to 88mph then travelled back to the 1980’s we would see some serious $%**&! The current situation is very much a product of decisions made in the 1980’s and 90’s making it an interesting subject to review in light of the current situation.

Lets get into our respective Time Machines and Double back in time to the mid 1980’s!

Time to replace Nimrod and P-3C – Déjà vu

We have arrived in the mid 80’s, we made it! As we step out of the Delorean and watch TD climb out of the smouldering slightly twisted Shipping Container embedded nose into the ground  nearby we can take stock of the current situation with maritime patrol in the USN and RAF.

Both organisations were operating fleets of increasingly elderly P-3C and Nimrod MR2, whilst both were being kept current with various upgrades but the simple fact was they were going to need replacing in the 1990’s. General wear and tear takes its toll especially in respect of the demanding operational profile. Low level, in difficult weather conditions and salt exposure all take their toll.


Two old girls in their element

Both services instigated replacement programs, the MOD and RAF in a flash of good sense also decided to link it’s program to that of the DOD and USN. Considering the vast size of the American MPA fleet plus the almost inevitable exports to allied nations it made plenty of sense to hitch a ride on that cart. It would also remove a problem that the UK had with the Nimrod, that of sole source support of a small unique fleet. Only the RAF operated the Nimrod MR2 and there was no civilian fleet to lever support costs off, if anything had to be done to those airframes the MOD could only go to British Aerospace (more on that later). Whilst there wasn’t really a civilian fleet of P-3 to lever support costs off and it was also like Nimrod sole source the huge number in service had support and economic benefits abound. So whatever the USN selected the RAF would get as well!

The USN had VERY clear ideas about what it wanted… new P-3! This would keep costs down as current facilities could be levered to support the new type. With new avionics and called the P-3G the USN envisioned 125 being delivered gradually replacing the old fleet. The USN released an rfp for their P-3G concept in January 1987, I am curious what the reaction was within Lockheed to receive a single source request for new P-3. Well rapidly the USN realised that it might not be wise  selecting an aircraft without competition so an extended  RFP was released in MArch 1987 for an aircraft named “LRAACA” (Long-Range Air ASW-Capable Aircraft). The usual suspects of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas put forward proposals based upon their current civil airline portfolios alongside Lockheed with its modernised P-3. Both the Boeing and Douglas proposals were certainly intriguing especially in relation to more recent developments.

Lets have a look what was on offer:

Boeing: 757 LRAACA


No I haven’t got my pictures mixed up, look carefully and you will realise this is no 737 derived P-8. The real clue is the engines, two large PW2000 series turbofans. Boeing rather logically at the time based their proposal on their then new single isle 727 replacement.

The 757 was developed alongside the 767 and introduced a slew of new technologies into the Boeing family from new flight deck systems to advanced new aerodynamics and even a basic form of fly-by-wire (no the 777 wasn’t first). A vanilla 757-200 variant had a range of 3,900 nmi (have a look at the range figures for the P-8A and have a ponder over that one) which would certainly be handy in the Pacific and Atlantic.

System fit information is sketchy, but a MAD boom, I presume a weapons bay and some form of tactical mission system. Boeing had won the contract for the P-3C Update IV mission package so no doubt that would of fed into any proposal. The picture below of the proposed layout looks spacious with some room for growth potential and plenty of crew rest space:


Boeing does mention the type on its historical website and the picture with caption in their article has a certain degree of “I told you so about it!


No doubt a 757 derived solution would of suffered similar issues to the 737 derived P-8 in respect of low level operations and I wonder what solutions would of been proffered if the type had gone into development. The 757 can certainly handle at low altitude as proven by the RNZAF:

Certainly there wouldn’t of been the grumbles about range and it is interesting to note that the 757 did go into USAF service a decade later as the C-32 and its PW2000 derived engines went onto power the C17. It is certainly a tantalising concept for the USN and the RAF more of which later on…


In the end I doubt it was ever a really serious offer, with the USN basing their initial RFP on a preferred P-3 variant that was already in service the idea of Boeing winning was a long shot.

As for the 757, whilst it is an amazing aircraft (I had my first airliner flight in a BA example) it never fitted well into the Boeing line-up. It was marketed as a small narrow-body but had the performance of a long range heavy, with the introduction of the cheaper to operate CFM powered 737 classic and the new upstart A320 sales were never stellar with Boeing eventually pulling the plug in 2004. It is proving popular with cargo operators currently as a replacement for the DC-8 and showing imitation is the best form of flattery the Russian Tupolev Tu204 is almost a direct copy.

McDonnell Douglas: P-9 LRAACA


To say the P-9 is an enigmatic beast is an understatement! Trying to find information about it is a struggle to say the least. The proposal was based upon the proposed 100-110 seat MD91X sub variant of the MD80 powered by the Alison 578D or GE36 propfan. The MD80 is a lengthened and updated variant of the venerable DC-9, certainly aspects of its configuration are useful for over water operations with ditching being safer. The on paper performance of propfans with the frugal fuel consumption would also of been attractive albeit the twin engine configuration would probably of worked against it at the time (the irony is not lost on me). MD claimed a 48% reduced fuel burn over the current P-3C. An MD81 was fitted with a prototype propfan or Unducted fan as it is also known and put through a series of trials, as the video below shows the noise is rather an issue for a civilian type especially with the increasing legislation to cut it down. Probably not an issue for a military type albeit an ASW aircraft might be heard by the sonar of a submarine.

If the P-9 had gone into development then I wouldn’t of been surprised if the propfan was dropped and a more conventional turbofan selected like the CF34. The drawing below shows a f mission bay an extended nose, six underwing pylons and sonobuoy tubes plus MAD to the rear. It was offered with the same systems fit as the P-3C update III, interesting considering Boeing as already mentioned had won the contract for upgrade IV.


An interesting possibility arises for the UK when you consider the further development into the MD95/B717. The MD95 was MD’s last real decent stab at staying in the civil market alongside the MD-11. Considering the increasing adoption of 737 classic and Airbus A320 it was frankly a forlorn exercise. After Boeing took over MD they sold it for a while under the 717 name and eventually killed it in favour of newer 737 variants.

Which is all a shame really as the aircraft itself is frankly superb and beloved by its operators (even those who hadn’t intended to operate it). Retaining the rugged nature of Douglas aircraft it has an extremely modern cockpit with all the latest gadgets and modern systems:

  • FBW
  • LCD displays
  • Electronic instrument system
  • Dual flight management system
  • Central fault display
  • GPS
  • CAT IIIb automatic landing capability

It is also powered by the Rolls Royce BR715 something to certainly sit up and take note of, from the same family as that fitted to the Nimrod MRA4 and the Bombardier Global express. Considering the Global Express derived Sentinel has been proposed as an ASW/MPA type for the UK a B717 derived type is certainly a what-if to ponder. Whilst the Rolls Royce engine was not available during the LRAACA program the technology included in the MD95 started development in the early 80’s so more then likely would of found themselves onto the P-9.

Alas like the 757 I doubt MD seriously felt they could win but they were bullish about deliveries stating they could start in 1991.

Lockheed: P-7A


Not a P-3 (kind of)

To say the P-7A was a shoe in is an understatement to say the least! The USN effectively wrote the RFP around what they would like in it and until they had a change of heart sole sourced it from Lockheed. Initially called the P-3G and based around the latest set of upgrades for the P-3C, a manageable and logical way forward.

The P-7A is in effect an enlarged P-3, lengthened by 8ft and the wingspan extended 7ft with a changed centre wing box to pull the engines further out from the fuselage to reduce in cabin noise. The tailplane is increased in area by 25% but shortened in height in comparison to the P-3. Power was to be provided by the General Electric T-407-GE-400 running five blade propellers. This engine is derived from  the GE27 developed for the “Modern Technology Demonstrator Engines” (MTDE) program. The design also had twelve under wing hard points and capacity for 150 Sonobuoy internally with another 150 on under wing pods.


Avionics wise the mission system was derived from the Boeing developed upgrade IV for the P-3C, it also included a glass cockpit and HUD. After that the usual complement of MAD and radar suitable for ASW work presumably lifted out of the P-3C. Not trying to sound like a scratched record but upgrade IV included new acoustic processing systems and the Litton AN/ALR77 tactical ESM (interesting considering the intended fit of the Elta EL/L-8300UK ESM to the MRA4). As shown in the picture below it was certainly more spacious and has more then a passing resemblance to the IL38:



On a humorous side note the Russians released a film in 1982 called “Incident at square 36-80” where an il38 in USN markings stands in for a P-3.

Increased range, increased payload and all around better performance based upon a mature in service type…so why isn’t the USN and RAF operating it now?

Money, delays and timing

In 1988 without any particular surprise from anybody Lockheed won the contract. It was judged to be technically superior, with a less risky technical approach. That it was also what the USN wanted in the first place probably helped a bit.

On January 4, 1989, the Defence Acquisition Board,  recommended full-scale development of the program. The next day the Navy awarded a fixed-price incentive contract to Lockheed to design, develop, fabricate, assemble, and test two prototype aircraft. The contract had a target cost of $600 million and a ceiling price of about $750 million. In March 1989 the Navy estimated acquisition of 125 P-7A aircraft at about $7.9 billion (escalated dollars). Of this total, development cost was estimated at $915 million (escalated dollars). Procurement of each production version aircraft was estimated at about $56.7 million.

One year later Lockheed announced $300 million in cost overruns due to schedule and design problems (that sounds familiar). Unfortunately this was the end of the cold war and communism was collapsing, defence spending was under the magnifying glass due to the perceived peace dividend. Lockheed and the government went into protracted negotiations to save the program but by the end of 1990 the writing was on the wall and the program was cancelled.

Oh well at least the funding could be transferred over to the P-3C upgrade IV program, well not quite two years later that was cancelled as well. The USN kicked the whole P-3 replacement program into the long grass but hang on didn’t the RAF plan to use the P-7A as well?!

Well come back for Part 2 where things get not only political but also rather murky!

Next week I am taking you “Back to the Future” – via the 1990’s…

Look TD has repaired the Time Shipping Container and Mr Fusion has been fitted to it and the Delorean…




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Thanks, a really good concise and informative read :-)


An interesting read but its credibility was somewhat undermined by repeated use of the meaningless term “would of” instead of “would have”. Sorry to be pedantic but such matters do have an impact on readers’minds.


I agree with TomG, and am frankly disgusted with the level of amateurish use of the Queens written English, C- must do better next time! ;-) Although I may be taking life a little too seriously.


Very interesting piece looking forward to part 2.


I was irritated by the grammar as well, but it’s a classic example of grammar mistakes made by native English speakers. Foreigners learn to read the words first, then how they sound. This creates bad accents.
Native speakers learn the sound first, and later on their spelling – which produces bad spelling when the language has several different words of near-identical sound.

The which/witch, they’re/their, then/than or have/of errors rarely depend on circumstances, though: Those who make these errors usually make them consistently, and it hurts the respect whenever people with better grammar read their writing.

Correct grammar, a tactical approach when one wants to convince (step by step, preparing the crucial turning points the most), a pleasant and fitting layout – all this is as important as the content.
I’ve got my own problems mustering the motivation for all this every time (and I don’t).

stephen duckworth

Very interesting where we could have been with the P7 operating on both sides of the pond sharing resources and facilities and could of be a precursor to future cooperation. It seems Lockheed do not change or learn from the past the way the F35 is going :-)

dave haine
dave haine

Grammatical errors aside…..only joking, honestly.

Actually, the B757 was even better with RR RB211-535s. The ‘racing snake’ was a little overpowered, and had a tendency to ‘float’ during the landing, which is why firm landings tended to be the norm with them.

Rarely needed full power on take-off, either, generally it took off at derate1, or derate2 on a longer runway.

Lots of spare power…..


Nice piece matey ! Looking forward to the second installment – did I spell all that right ?

As I am officially Canadian as of this week, I am not sure that my Yorkshire English remains extant, not that I could ever spell or do correct grammar in any dialect….. sigh…….


Just wondering what people’s thoughts might be on the AVRO RJ / BAe146 series as a potential conversion?

I know that the aircraft is out of production BUT there are plenty of aircraft in service that are due to be replaced – and the 328Jet has continued long after the last plane left the production line.

At last count there were 87 of the old 146 (all versions) in service, and 96 RJs, The lines of Swiss, Brussels Airlines and Malmo Aviation have a total of 44 due to be replaced in the next 5 years.

And a lot of work has been done on demonstrating their ability to be used for Fire Fighting, which requires a low level profile as required. Comair/Falko have indicated that they have access to 30 RJ85s for this purpose – could some be bought for a MPA option?

An interior with 6 abreast seating makes it roomy compared to a business jet – the ERJ145 is 3 abreast by comparison and has a range in airliner mode for the RJ85 at max fuel of 1600nm at a cruising speed of 720km/h – the RJ improvement included a digital flight deck.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth

Is it significant that none of the proposals replicated the Nimrod’s double bubble fuselage? They all attempt to fit weapons bays into the existing airframe even though the airliners seem to have a fairly high stance and room underneath.

I guess this was influenced by the undercarriage – the nose wheel on the Nimrod is quite close to the nose whereas on modern airliners it is further back, and the main wheels on the Nimrod fold into the wings whereas the main wheels on the modern airliners fold under the fuselage. The Nimrod wheel arrangement lends itself to a long, uninterrupted bomb bay while most modern airliners don’t.

Double bubble or not if you wanted a long bomb bay you would need to go for the MD95/B717 or something similarly arranged having the engines towards the rear and the wings quite far back along the fuselage.

How knackered are the RAF Tristars?


“I put in the effort to write it, looking down the author list I don’t see any written by you S O!”

Yes, I have my own blog, with 1,350 blog posts in six and a half years. Additionally, I do occasionally drop something in TD’s mailbox if I think it’s a topic for TD but not within my blog’s scope.

There’s not much to discuss in the blog post unless one is very much interested in hardware or procurement history details. There’s no thesis, no conclusion discernible.

Rocket Banana

In the past if, TD, who had had “had had” had had “had”, it would have been okay.

Stupid language ;-)

dave haine
dave haine

@ Fedaykin

The B757 was a popular choice with charter outfits, handy because it had a common crew rating with the B767, and it had the range to make long-haul charter economic, without having to buy seat share on a scheduled carrier, who always charged tour operators an arm, and both legs.

The other advantage over the mutated 737s was the hold space- even at high density seating (235) it had enough room for charter carriers to offer cargo services, (and 757 operators never bulked out on ski flights)

It was the A320 family that killed off the B757, I think. B737 operators will generally always be B737 operators, but get an aircraft family come along that gave you 130seats to 221seats all with the same crew qualification, well it was no wonder, was it.

The B737NG family was an answer to the A320 really.

Shame the 757 never flew straight.


Comment on the ALR-77 vs the EL/L-8300 ESM. My recollection was that the ALR-77 was originally selected as a replacement for the original (and P-3C ALQ-78 and was under development in the mid-80s. The ALQ-78 and its underwing spinner antenna was only good to detect a submarine radar in a quiet open ocean environment as it had poor emitter de-interleaving/correlation in any environment with more than a few X-band radars. The ALR-77 was to rely on interferometer arrays on each P-3 wingtip for DF but during development the weight of the multiple antennas in the array was recognised to place too much weight and thus fatigue on the P-3C wings which already had four heavy T-56 engines to support as well as hard point for underwing weapons. I recall the ALR-77 was cancelled in about 1986. It may have been resurrected for the P-7 but I had never heard about that.
The advantage of the EL/L-8300 was that it used Differential Time of Arrival DF, requiring only 2 biconical antennas at each wingtip plus supplementary but lightweight spiral antennas. This was critical to RAAF selection of this ESM as RAAF required Lockheed to report on the fatigue effects that the chosen ESM would have on their P-3s. Lockheed reported that the P-3 wings could support the EL/L-8300 without undue fatigue loading.
The EL/L-8300, which had already been fitted to the Chilean B-707 Condors (antennas also in wingtip fairings), then took off as a major international ESM being fitted to Singaporean F-50s and now a number of other aircraft – in many other cases the biconical antennas are mounted in pods a la MR4 because wingtip fairings were not feasible – the aerodynamics of the wingtips can be critical to aircraft performance at low and high speeds. Boeing managed to work out a way to fit the EL/L-8300 biconical antennas into 737 wingtip fairings for the AEWC used by RAAF, Turkey and South Korea.

Elm Creek Smith
Elm Creek Smith

Woulda, shoulda, coulda. No more on grammar, please!

Very nicely done article that pretty much described the way the US forces tended to “ask” for something. “We want another one of these, only better. Too bad we have to bid it out to everybody else!”