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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