Boeing Targets Jet Against Airbus Prop for U.K. Sub-Hunter Plane

Boeing Co. is pitching its P-8 maritime-patrol aircraft to the U.K. as Airbus SAS promotes an offshoot of its C-295 turbo-propeller transport plane to meet a British aerial submarine-hunting requirement.

“Looking at the strategic needs of the U.K., we think the P-8 is a natural fit,” said Egan Greenstein, director of business development for the Boeing plane, which is based on the commercial 737 airliner. The U.S. and India are already customers for the maritime surveillance version.

The U.K. has a gap in airborne submarine hunting. It canceled the BAE Systems Plc Nimrod MRA4 program in its 2010 defense review after years of delay and cost overruns. The defense ministry has been assessing alternatives in recent months to address capability shortfalls.

“Existing systems can’t fill the gap,” Air Chief Marshal Andrew Pulford said at the DSEI security and defense conference in London. By the next strategic review in 2015, the military wants to have drawn up options so policy makers can decide whether to pursue a new program.

The U.K. has dispatched staff to work with other militaries and help preserve maritime patrol skills under an effort called Project Seedcorn. Some of those personnel are serving as instructors with the U.S. Navy on the P-8, Greenstein said at DSEI.

Airbus Model

A British program would probably encompass 8 to 12 aircraft, although the final number would depend on the exact requirement, he said. The P-8 used by the U.S. could be adapted to address unique U.K. needs, as was the case with the Indian aircraft, Greenstein said.

Airbus would build its proposal around the C-295 military airlifter in a configuration similar to one already in service with the Chilean military, Gary Soul, head of strategy at Airbus Military U.K., said in an interview.

“The big factor favoring the C-295 is its affordability,” he said, with a lower purchase and operations cost. The system would include about six workstations. Introducing the aircraft could happen relatively quickly once a decision to purchase is taken, Soul said.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is another likely contestant. The company has said previously it would promote a maritime patrol system based on its C-130 transport plane. Raytheon Co., developer of the British Sentinel R1 ground surveillance plane, also is tracking the maritime patrol program.

The company could upgrade the Sentinel to take on some of the surveillance roles, Phil Nettleship, chief engineer at Raytheon Airborne Solutions, said at a press briefing at DSEI.

The U.K. is still studying how to retain the five Sentinel aircraft in its fleet after it they were earmarked for retirement mid-decade in the last defense review.