Herc deal for Lockheed, P-8 to Boeing?

As Lockheed-Martin pops open the champagne to celebrate the Super Hercules deal -- believe me, there were last minute hiccups which were roadrolled -- all indications are that Boeing will land the long-suffering maritime reconnaisance and anti-submarine warfare (MR-ASW) aircraft contract from the Indian Navy for its P-8I product. Negotiations are now on for a business model of how the DRDO, Navy and other government agencies may be part of the development process that will lead up to deliveries of the aircraft from 2012.

Field evaluations of the P-8 took place in June 2007 in Seattle, but of course there was no aircraft fielded because it hasn't been developed yet. Incidentally, production of the first P-8A for the US Navy began just over a month ago on 11 December 2007. For demonstrations etc, Boeing has leased a 737-800 for flight trials, a C-40 Clipper (military variant of the 737) for handling trials and a P-3 Orion for systems trials. The evaluation conducted was judged technically compliant by the Indian Navy.

Meanwhile, Lockheed-Martin which was eliminated from the sweepstakes has come up with a counter-proposition. Considering that the Boeing P-8 (or Airbus A319 MPA) will join service with the Indian Navy only in the next decade, Lockheed-Martin has offered to sell India a pair of P-3C Orions as a stopgap. However, going by the experience that the government had with the leasing of P-3s in the past, it's unlikely to look upon yet another sunset platform.

Insiders in the Navy say that the decision-makers are quite convinced about the convenience of operating a familiar 737 platform, and it would also involve huge savings in logistics costs. Boeing has apparently also provided a global supply chain map of how the aircraft could be used across the world, with the availability of spares and supplies assured. But I wouldn't discount Airbus just yet. They began throwing together the A319 MPA as a direct response to the P-8 proposal, and Airbus is no less familiar with the way India works. Well either way, we'll know before long who the winner is.

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