US P-3 Recovery Plan Tries to Keep the Fleet in the Air
The USA’s aging aircraft problem spans a number of fleets, from aerial tankers, to fighters, to tactical transports. One may argue, however, that its most severe problem lies with its fleet of Lockheed Martin P-3 maritime patrol aircraft. Not only was the global P-3 fleet produced between 1962-1990, the aircraft have often been flown at low altitudes in a salt-spray environment. This is not a recipe for aircraft health.
Rear Adm. Holmes’ 2005 interview confirmed the seriousness of the situation. The US Navy keeps retiring aircraft, and is trying to hang on until its P-8A Poseidon/ BAMS UAV successors are fielded. That is proving to be difficult, to the point that Boeing is reportedly being asked to speed up P-8 production and fielding. Meanwhile, the P-3 Recovery Plan is part of a range of efforts designed to keep the P-3s in the air. Contracts continue, including outer wing replacements and other deep structural maintenance efforts.
The P-3 Problem
On average, the P-3 fleet is about 30 years old. Originally designed with a service life of 7,500 flight hours, the fleet today averages about 16,000. It remains the USA’s main maritime patrol aircraft, and production numbers for the P-8A Poseidon suggest that the P-3 fleet will remain on duty for some time. The aircraft is an excellent communications relay, and its combnation of radar and optical surveillance is also finding use in overland surveillance roles.
That means radar and weapons upgrades, to keep the fleet current. It also means extra efforts to preserve the fleet, including the P-3 SMIP (Sustainment, Modification, and Installation Program), an intensive depot-level inspection and repair process that includes P-3 airframe and component inspection, identification of problems, and corrective maintenance.
Lockheed has even opened a new production line, to cover wings that have to be replaced. Full re-winging provides another 15,000 hours of airframe life, instead of the Zone 5 upgrade’s 5,000 hours, but it’s a more expensive upgrade. Other customers happily accepted, but the US Navy initially poured cold water on that idea. Its position has shifted a bit, as test results have come back and the existing USN fleet began standing down. In December 2007, the US Navy grounded 30 P-3s. Further inspections in September 2009 grounded another 10, with even more groundings occurring in between. By then, only 49 out of 147 P-3s were cleared to fly.
“Zone 5” – The Program and Process
The Zone 5 repairs are very extensive, requiring 21,000 man-hours of work, 6,000 holes drilled for rivets, and special equipment. Work includes replacement of 5 of the 9 lower wing planks, and the aft lower wing spar. When the Zone 5 repairs are complete, they provide an estimated 5,000 additional flight hours, or 8 – 10 years, to the aircraft’s airframe service lifespan. See NAVAIR’s “FRCSE Delivers First Red-Striped P-3 Back to the Fleet” for further details regarding the process.
Some countries like Norway have opted for an even more extensive plan, which involves a full re-winging, plus other replacements that include the horizontal stabilizer and engine nacelle components. Lockheed Martin has become the sole source for new P-3 wings as a matter of Pentagon policy, and a few outer wing kits were bought, but installation is the responsibility of other firms like L-3 Communications.
The main thrust, however, involved establishing rotatable wing pool, beginning with an order for 15 new wings. As P-3s come in and their old outer wings are removed and replaced, their old wings are refurbished and partially replaced, then returned to the pool.
The US Navy planned to ground 6 – 10 Orions a year, with all aircraft re-evaluated every 6 months. The re-winging effort and associated “Zone 5 modifications” is expected to take up to a year for each aircraft, and the US Navy expects to reach a steady state of 24 Zone 5 modifications (including re-wings) per year. That has accelerated somewhat due to fleet readiness issues, and as of September 2010, 45 P-3s were undergoing depot-level repairs.
Getting there required more than just spending money. The initial “Zone 5 groundings” in December 2007 kicked off a detailed value stream analysis of the entire P-3 industrial base. Two new plank and wing spar manufacturing vendors were certified, in order to make sure long-lead items would be available as needed. Another 3 depot facilities were brought under contract to conduct wing modifications and start work on the backlog of grounded aircraft. Existing contracts were restructured to reward higher depot throughput, and the Navy invested in machinery and production level management software for its own depot, in order to streamline P-3 repair operations.
Contracts and Key Events
The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages these contracts. Any exceptions will be noted in the text below. This article does not cover non-military P-3s operated by US agencies.
March 14/11: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA receives a $135.5 million not-to-exceed unfinalized contract to buy 14 outer wing assembly kits for the Navy P-3C aircraft, including engineering analysis support, integrated logistics support and associated technical data.
Work will be performed in Marietta, GA and is expected to be complete in June 2014. This contract was competitively procured via an electronic request for proposals, with 1 offer received (N00019-11-C-0037).
Oct 21/10: US NAVAIR touts success in its P-3 recovery plan, citing 80 of 120 operational aircraft, up from just 49 in September 2009. They also discuss some of the measures taken, in order to get there.
Flight International adds that that “programme officials now acknowledge [that the groundings of all but 49 planes] brought the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion fleet “to its knees” only 12 months ago. US NAVAIR | Flight International.
Oct 13/10: L-3 Communications has lost its second-source status as a provider of replacement P-3 wing sets, but will continue to offer “zone 5” repairs. L-3 Integrated Systems VP for program execution, Ken McAlpine, tells Aviation Week that the contract was “terminated for convenience, and not due to performance,” when the first set was just 5 months away from delivery. L-3 will offer complete wing sets if customers demand it, but otherwise, that field is now clear for Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin reportedly has orders in hand for 54 shipsets of new outer wings from Canada, Norway, Taiwan and the USA (Customs and Border Patrol, Navy special-mission), as part of a wider-ranging set of upgrades. They provide another 15,000 hours of airframe life, instead of the Zone 5 upgrade’s 5,000 hours, but are a more expensive upgrade. The firm reportedly believes that around 42% of global fleets, or about 250 P-3s, will still be flying in 20 years, and thinks their full package of new outer wings, center-wing lower surface, horizontal stabilizers and inboard nacelles will be an attractive option for those operators. Aviation Week.
Oct 8/10: US NAVAIR recognizes Fleet Readiness Center Southeast’s (FRCSE) efforts in creating a donor “wing off” program that will help the Navy use wings from P-3 aircraft stored at the AMARG “boneyard” near Tucson, AZ, and also incorporate wings from P-3s that enter the overhaul program. Developing a “FlipRite” sling lets artisans move the wing from station to station, safely performing “wing off” repairs using less manpower and effort than “wing on” inspection and repair. After many setbacks, FRSCE’s P-3 line artisans can start work on the 1st set of wings. Over the next 3 years, FRCSE will work 6 sets of wings, estimated to total more than 179,000 hours of work over the life of the project.
Donor wings receive a special structural inspection, Planned Maintenance Intervals I and II, and Zone 5 repairs before installation on P-3 aircraft with structural wing fatigue. When completed, artisans add the refurbished donor wings. Then the removed set then goes to the wing hangar for maintenance and repairs, and becomes the donor set for the next inducted aircraft, accelerating turnaround time and reducing costs.
This was not easy. Challenges included no accurate drawings for the 44-foot wings, designing ergonomic work stands before the sling was built, no instructions or parts lists for important wing support fixtures, and of course the usual challenges of workflow, quality control, etc. Toolmakers Marvin Harpenau and Carlos Alvarez, Engineer Dan Marlow, and Sheet Metal Work Lead Ray Likar were singled out for special commendation by P-3 Wing Overhaul and Repair Supervisor Giuseppe “Guido” Colesanti. US NAVAIR.
April 19/10: Lockheed Martin Services, Inc. in Greenville, SC received a $12.9 million not-to-exceed modification for Zone 5 critical airframe structures replacements on 4 P-3C aircraft, in support of the P-3C SMIP program. Work on this previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity multiple award contract (N00019-05-D-0013) will be performed in Greenville, SC, and is expected to be complete in April 2011.
April 19/10: L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, LP in Waco, TX receives a $10.1 million not-to-exceed modification not-to-exceed modification for Zone 5 critical airframe structures replacements on 4 P-3C aircraft, in support of the P-3C SMIP program. Work on this previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity multiple award contract (N00019-05-D-0008) will be performed in Waco, TX (83%), and Birmingham, AL (17%), and is expected to be complete in April 2011.
Dec 30/09: L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, LP in Waco, TX received a $16.1 million ceiling-priced modification to complete Zone 5 critical airframe structures replacements for 5 more P-3C aircraft in support of the P-3C sustainment, modification and installation program.
Work under this indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity multiple award contract will be performed in Waco, TX (80%), and Greenville, TX (20%), and is expected to be complete in December 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $5.7 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/10 (N00019-05-D-0008).
Oct 14/09: Lockheed Martin Services, Inc. in Greenville, SC received a $6.8 million cost-plus fixed-fee modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity multiple award P-3 SMIP contract (N00019-05-D-0013), buying lower wing Zone 5 material structure replacements for 2 P-3C aircraft. Work will be performed in Greenville, SC and is expected to be complete in June 2010.
June 11/09: Lockheed Martin Services, Inc. in Greenville, SC received a $21 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity multiple award contract (N00019-05-D-0013) for additional lower wing Zone 5 material structures replacement on 5 P-3C aircraft.
Work will be performed in Greenville, SC, and is expected to be complete in March 2010.
May 1/09: L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, LP in Waco, TX received a $15.2 million cost plus fixed fee modification to a previously awarded indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract (N00019-05-D-0008) to provide “Zone 5 critical airframe structures replacement” for P-3C Orion aircraft.
Work will be performed in Greenville, TX (50%) and Birmingham, AL (50%), and is expected to be complete in March 2010.
March 13/09: US NAVAIR releases a solicitation for the next set of P-3 SMIP and Zone 5 replacement contracts, with a planned base year and 4 option years. The actual contract(s) will not be awarded for many months. FedBizOpps.
Nov 24/08: Lockheed Martin Services, Inc. in Greenville, Sc received a not-to-exceed $11.8 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for Special Structural Inspection Kit (SSIK) Revision 7 inspection/ installation on 5 P-3 aircraft.
Work will be performed in Greenville, SC, and is expected to be complete in June 2010 (N00019-05-D-0013).
Nov 21/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Global Sustainment in Greenville, SC received a $22.9 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity multiple award contract (N00019-05-D-0013), exercising an option for the Zone 5 critical airframe structures replacement for 4 P-3C aircraft.
Work will be performed in Greenville, SC and is expected to be complete in January 2009.
Nov 7/08: Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) completes repairs on the first “Red-striped” P-3C, and delivers the aircraft to its squadron in Brunswick, Maine. The term “red-stripe” comes from the diagonal red stripe on the Airworthiness Bulletin that grounded 39 P-3C aircraft in December 2007 for structural fatigue concerns on a portion of the lower outer wing, called Zone 5. These 39 aircraft comprise approximately one quarter of the P-3C fleet. NAVAIR release.
Aug 26/08: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta, GA received a $129.3 million contract for 13 P-3 Outer Wing Assembly kits in support of the P-3 recovery plan. That figure is an upper limit, but the exact total will be settled later (“undefinitized”).
Work will be performed in Marietta, GA, and is expected to be complete in December 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-08-C-0066).
Aug 19/08: L-3 Communications Integrated Systems L.P. in Waco, TX received a $60.6 million contract for 4 P-3 Outer Wing Assembly kits in support of the P-3 recovery plan. That figure is an upper limit, but the exact total will be settled later (“undefinitized”).
Work will be performed in South Korea (51%) and Waco, TX (49%), and is expected to be completed in June 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-08-C-0065).
L-3’s release adds that:
“The company developed modern tooling that will result in the production of the most advanced wing configuration available, using the U.S. Navy’s latest P-3 parts and materials for improved resistance to fatigue and corrosion.”
Feb 1/08: BAE Systems Applied Technologies, Inc. in Rockville, MD received a $12.6 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00421-06-D-0038) for the production of Emergency Rate Initial Production P-3 fatigue critical area Zone 5 components, including engineering, analytical and manufacturing efforts in support of the P-3C and derivative series aircraft.
Work will be performed in Brea, CA (45%); St. Louis, MO (25%); Wellington, KS (20%); and other locations in california and Maryland (10%), and is expected to be complete in September 2009. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.
Dec 17/07: US NAVAIR issues an Air Frame Bulletin announcing the grounding of 39 P-3C Orion aircraft, which have been discovered to be “beyond known structural limits on the lower section of the P-3 wing.” Analysis and corrective measures are expected to take between 18 – 24 months per aircraft to complete.
The Navy has a total of 161 P-3C aircraft in its inventory at this time, and 10 of the 39 grounded aircraft are currently deployed on operations. The grounded aircraft will either return to safe operation after replacement of critical structural components – or will be removed from service.
Sept 25/07: BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services in Rockville, MD recveives a $10.5 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract (N00421-06-D-0038) for the manufacture of 13 P-3 Special Structural Inspection airframe kits.
This effort entails production of Emergency Rate Initial Production quantities of end item component parts, including engineering, analytical and manufacturing efforts in support of the Aging Aircraft Program; the original $14 million contract was announced on Sept 26/06. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (56%); Rockville, MD (24%); and Brea, CA (20%) and is expected to be complete in September 2009. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at Patuxent River, MD issued the contract.
See “P-3 Orion’s SMIP Program Keeps on Rolling” for more details regarding P-3 Special Structural Inspections and associated efforts, which tie into the recovery plan.
- Flight International (Nov 9/10) – US Navy Overcomes Mass P-3 Grounding Scare
- US NAVAIR (Oct 21/10) – More P-3s available for the fleet. Also discusses how they made that happen.
- Defense Daily (Sept 4/08) – Navy Awards Lockheed Martin, L-3 Contracts For P-3 Wing Repairs.
- Gannett’s Navy Times (Aug 24/08) – Navy: Aging P-3s safe despite mishaps. “But despite a steady uptick in mishaps, and the December grounding of 39 P-3s because of fears that wing sections could break off in flight, Navy and civilian officials insist the Orion is still safe to fly.”