Greece’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft Competition
May 29/19: First Delivery The Hellenic Navy received its first modernized P-3B maritime patrol aircraft as part of the Hellenic Navy P-3B maritime patrol aircraft mid-life upgrade and modernization program implementation. Representatives from the Hellenic Navy, Lockheed Martin and Hellenic Aerospace Industry hosted a ceremony on May 17. The government-to-government agreement between the United States and Greece was announced in 2015, providing for the re-activation of one Hellenic Navy P-3B Orion maritime patrol aircraft, which was the recently delivered aircraft. The agreement also includes the modernization of four Hellenic Navy P-3B aircraft through the Mid-Life Upgrade Program. The P-3 Orion is used for homeland security, anti-piracy operations, humanitarian relief, search and rescue, intelligence gathering, antisubmarine warfare and, recently, to assist in air traffic control and natural disaster relief support. The Hellenic Navy operated the P-3 fleet for 15 years.
Greece’s Hellenic Air Force currently operates 4 older P-3B Orion maritime patrol aircraft, which were delivered to the HAF from 1993 – 1996. They are reaching the limits of their airframe life, but Greece is nearing the end of their fiscal rope. In 2008, the odds appeared to tilt toward new aircraft, with at least EUR 250 million (then about $350 million) reportedly set aside for the winner of a 5-aircraft maritime patrol competition. In 2014, it became clear that Greece was considering another option…
In May 2005, “P-8A MMA Could Become a Multinational Program” said that:
“European nations operating the P-3 may gravitate toward smaller maritime patrol aircraft … Initial designs are even appearing in this class for executive jet aircraft equipped with maritime surveillance radars and related gear. Given that many nations’ maritime surveillance and attack requirements make the P-8’s range and endurance parameters unnecessary, it’s very possible that the EU’s moves will successfully bifurcate the global maritime patrol category into a broad class of nations who buy smaller aircraft, and an elite few with more extensive requirements who buy aircraft in the P-8A [Poseidon] class.”
Greece seemed to be firmly in that broad class who could buy smaller aircraft, and expected competitors are described in Appendix A. A different option also existed. The Orion has upgraded to P-3C designation, and has received a slew of updates since the P-3Bs were fielded. Efforts like Lockheed Martin’s reopening of P-3 wing production have made it possible for countries like Norway to keep upgraded P-3 aircraft in service.
In 2008, Greece had reportedly decided not to buy P-8s, or refurbish the Orions. By 2014, they had changed their minds.
Contracts & Key Events
July 27/14: Greece’s P-3B Orion aircraft are to undergo a $142 million mid-life modernization program. Work to be carried out as highlighted in the deal include the reactivation of one of the navy’s P-3Bs and the procurement of software and hardware kits for the upgrade and modernization of a total of four aircraft. Greece operates six of the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) P-3Bs.
Oct 7/14: P-3 overhaul. The Greeks have changed their minds. The US DSCA announces Greece’s official export request for modification and reactivation of 2 stored P-3B aircraft (bringing the fleet to 6), and the upgrade of up to 5 P-3Bs that will include structural Mid Life Upgrades (MLU) to provide 15,000 more flight hours, Phased Depot Maintenance (PDM), Mission Integration and Management Systems (MIMS), and new flight avionics. Not to mention the usual spare and repair parts, repair and return, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and US Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $500 million.
That’s quite the shift in policy, considering that it ends up costing Greece more than the previous budget for new acquisitions. The P-3s will also be more expensive to operate. On the other hand, their range will be very useful if Greece wants long patrol times over Cyprus’ offshore gas fields. Then, too, the DSCA statement suggests that things have become dire:
“The proposed sale for overhaul and upgrade would allow the Hellenic Navy (HN) to resume operations of its P-3B aircraft for land-based maritime patrol and reconnaissance, surveillance and protection of areas of national interest.”
Airbus performs these kinds of upgrades, and did so for Brazil. In this case, however, the principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Marietta, GA. If a contract is signed, the sale will require “multiple” trips to Greece by U.S. Government and contractor representatives for a period of 7 years for delivery, system checkout, training, and program reviews. Sources: US DSCA #14-47, “Greece – P-3B Aircraft Overhaul and Upgrade”.
DSCA request: P-3 reactivation and upgrades
Oct 14/08: Competition. Flight International reports on the expected Greek Maritime Patrol Aircraft competition, and the expected competitors. See Appendix A for even more background. Boeing won’t be offering the P-8, and the magazine also reports that Greece has rejected American offers of refurbished P-3s or of second-hand S-3B Viking jets.
The S-3 is a twin-engine carrier jet whose mission is described simply as “sea control.” Their range fits well with Greece’s needs, and they come armed with advanced surveillance equipment plus the ability to carry torpedoes, missiles, sonobuoys – even refueling pods that let them act as aerial refueling tankers. The US Navy plans to phase out the S-3 by 2010, and is replacing them with MH-60R helicopters whose slow speed and reduced range will shrink the protective anti-submarine “bubble” around American carrier forces.
For Greece, the planes’ age and hard usage in carrier landings creates issues with spares, training, and operational costs. These issues combine to make an S-3B transfer unattractive as a long-term solution. If the current financial crisis pinches Greece’s defense procurement budgets sharply enough, however, a cheap enough S-3 transfer offer might begin to look attractive as a stopgap solution that would compete with P-3 re-winging and/or refurbishment.
Appendix A: Greek MPA Competitors, 2008
Greece’s naval focus is limited to the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, a sphere that is well within the capabilities of smaller and less expensive aircraft. A budget of about $350 million might buy 2 P-8As, plus spares and fielding support. It could not buy 5. In October 2008, Flight International reported that the budget for this purchase could increase, but:
“Boeing does not expect to offer its 737-based P-8A multi-mission maritime aircraft, but is promoting a Boeing Business Jet solution for a separate requirement for three VIP and presidential transports.”
An RFP was expected by the end of 2009, and viable candidates for the maritime patrol requirement reportedly included:
ATR-72MP (Alenia/EADS). This large twin-turboprop regional passenger aircraft has been developed into a maritime patrol variant that includes both integrated surveillance equipment and weapons carriage. Its use in civilian capacities creates an independent source of potential upgrades, troubleshooting, service networks, and trained personnel opportunities. In 2006, Turkey ordered ATR-72ASWs; picking this aircraft would give Greece assured platform parity with its rival.
Be200 (Beriev). Greece buys a lot of Russian defense equipment, from armored personnel carriers, to hovercraft, to advanced anti-aircraft missiles. The Beriev jet would be an interesting choice because it is a true amphibian that can land on water. It also comes with a fire-fighting mission module, something that might offer an attractive supplement to Greece’s Bombardier aircraft after the infamous 2007 fires. Beriev does not advertise a full maritime patrol variant, just a search and rescue variant.
If the competition involved only search and rescue aircraft, the Be-200 would have an exceptionally strong case. The Greek request also requires anti-submarine, anti-surface, and surveillance duties, however, which may prove problematic for the Russian design. There have been reports of a Be-40/Be-42 variant for maritime patrol since 1986, but the project’s status remains uncertain. Given Greece’s requirements for NATO commonality, it would also be fair to characterize a Greek Be-40 as a new variant when assessing development and delivery risks.
C-295 MPA (EADS). Chile has ordered the C-295MP, a larger derivative of the CN-235MP Persuader surveillance-only aircraft that serves with a number of air forces. These aircraft offer good endurance in a small plane, and economical operating costs. The C-295 MPA version comes with an advanced surveillance system, and can carry torpedoes or Harpoon/ Exocet missile on underwing pylons. It does not appear to carry sonobuoy launchers.
The CN-235/C-295 family is in widespread use with a number of militaries as light transport aircraft, and versions of the smaller CN-235MP maritime patrol aircraft are already in service with 7 countries and the US Coast Guard. Greece doesn’t currently operate the C-235 family, however; it ordered Alenia’s C-27J as its light tactical transport instead.
P-99 (Embraer). Like the ATR-72, Embraer’s offer leverages an in-service, popular civilian platform. An unarmed variant of this ERJ-145 based martime patrol aircraft serves with Mexico. Greece currently operates the R-99A Erieye airborne early warning derivative, and uses the ERJ-145 as a VIP transport. Embraer can also be expected to compete in Greece’s VIP/Presidential transport solicitation, where they will offer a potent challenge to Boeing.
A P-99 purchase would offer fleet commonality, and a jet solution offers greater speed and hence coverage at the expense of sustained low-level flight. Greece’s preferences in this regard will either tip it toward the ATR/EADS turoprop solutions, or give the Embraer aircraft a strong advantage. Embraer’s site touts the new P-99 variant as being capable of carrying weapons, and their concept art even shows sonobuoy launchers; but Greece would be the armed version’s launch customer. That creates customization opportunities, but it also makes that first buyer the guinea pig and bill-payer for platform development and integration issues.
- DID – Meltem-III: Turkey’s New ATR-72 Maritime Patrol Planes. Includes 6 TMPAs, and 2 TMUA transports.
- Balkan Analysis (May 31/12) – Greece and Turkey: Offensive and Defensive Balance of Naval Power in 2012.
- Balkan Analysis (Feb 19/12) – Greece and Turkey: Offensive and Defensive Balance of Air Power in 2012.
- Flight Global (Oct 14/08) – Greek navy prioritises maritime patrol aircraft contest.