Facing great difficulty in finding North Korean submarines, the South Korean navy is pushing for a big increase in its maritime aviation force. Competition with Japan, although not mentioned, may also be a factor.
The country will have a force of 16 upgraded Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime aircraft by 2018 under an L-3 Communications and Korean Air program to refit eight aircraft that have yet to be modernized. Separately, the South Korean navy is seeking 20 more maritime aircraft, which would considerably augment its anti-submarine capability.
Work began in April on P-3Cs that South Korea has operated since 1995, says Ernie Lock, L-3's program manager. The U.S. company is due to deliver components for the first aircraft within 22 months; the last unit should be upgraded within 60 months. The defense ministry values the program at $400 million, including manuals and training.
The aim is to bring the aircraft to the same specification as eight P-3Bs that Korea Aerospace Industries and L-3 upgraded to the P-3CK standard last decade. The P-3Cs are newer but still lack the advanced equipment retrofitted to the P-3Bs. The P-3Cs will gain all new electronics, including a new magnetic anomaly detector, electro-optical sensor, electronic surveillance gear, radar, self-protection suite and data link. The system is built around a data management system with seven operator stations plus a tactical display in the cockpit. L-3 declines to discuss weapons.
L-3 is building the equipment at its Greenville, Texas, facility. Installation will be done at Korean Air's Gimhae works. Korean Air and L-3 are not working on the structure of the P-3Cs, except as needed to install the new equipment. Electrical and cooling requirements are no greater, and possibly less, than those of the old electronics.
L-3 is offering the same maritime warfare suite for installation in a maritime version of the Bombardier Q400 turboprop airliner, the Q400 MPA, but that is not mentioned as a candidate for the navy's requirement for 20 more maritime aircraft. The South Korean joint chiefs of staff has approved the navy's request for the aircraft, which would serve alongside the Orions, says the Yonhap news agency, quoting a military source.
The Defense Acquisition Program Agency sees prospective aircraft as the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, Lockheed Martin SC-130J Sea Hercules and Airbus Military C295. Listing the C295 and Poseidon as mutual alternatives is unusual, given the vast differences in flight characteristics, system performance and cost between the 86-metric-ton (189,000-lb.) jet and 23-ton turboprop.