After the failure of the Franco-German MAWS program, Dassault Aviation's Falcon10X and Airbus Defense and Space's A320Neo are in the running to replace the French Navy's Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft.
The design of a replacement for the German P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and their French Atlantic 2 counterparts was part of the Franco-German agreements in 2017 intended to give a major boost to the idea of Defense Europe. , alongside other programs like SCAF for combat aircraft and MGCS for heavy tanks. Designated Maritime Airborne Warfare System or MAWS, this program however experienced thwarted development, especially when Berlin announced, in 2021, the acquisition of five P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft of the American Boeing for replace its oldest Lockheed P-3Cs.
Since then, the program has been stopped, France and Germany considering that it is the responsibility of the other to unblock it, without ever giving the necessary impetus to achieve it. In addition, as part of the €100 billion envelope announced on 27 February by Olaf Scholz before the Bundestag to modernize the Bundeswehr, an order for 7 additional P8s was initially planned, even if it is now unknown, due to the staggering of the program and the influence of inflation, if this assumption will be maintained.
Be that as it may, for France, it was essential to take the lead, because the 18 Atlantique 2 being modernized to standard 6, will not be able to continue to carry out their strategic mission beyond the next decade.
This is why the French Direction Générale de l'Armement announced on February 12 that it had awarded Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defense & Space a study contract worth 10,9 million euros for conduct a competitive study for the replacement of the French Atlantique 2s over the next decade, the first on the basis of the new generation Falcon10X business jet, and the second on an evolution of the A320Neo medium-haul civil transport aircraft.
Each of the manufacturers now has 18 months to carry out this study, and to propose the most efficient and most economical weapon system, but also technological developments in terms of detection, communication, cooperative engagement and combat systems. the most relevant to meet the future needs of the French Navy.
In addition, the technological and economic models proposed by the aircraft manufacturers will have to allow the integration of new partners, in particular European ones, which supposes an industrial sharing which we know is complex to implement, especially if it must be flexible enough to do it effectively iteratively or successively, not globally when launching the program.
This last constraint shows that Paris is keeping the door open for Berlin to join the program, and with it other European partners. On the other hand, this announcement definitively puts an end to the MAWS program, in the sense of an ab-initio global cooperation between Paris and Berlin on this subject, and to note that of the 6 Franco-German cooperation programs announced in 2017, only two remain active, the SCAF and MGCS programs, while MAWS (Maritime patrol), CIFS (new generation artillery), MAST-F (Long-range anti-tank missile) and Tiger III (combat helicopter) have either been abandoned or have been stopped since several years.
Be that as it may, the future of French maritime patrol will now be played out between Dassault Aviation's Falcon10X and the Airbus A320Neo, two aircraft with a radically different technical and commercial philosophy, and which each have their own assets to put forward.
Remember that the Maritime Patrol, under the command of the French Navy, covers many missions, ranging from anti-submarine warfare using sonar buoys and air-dropped torpedoes, to anti-surface warfare with significant radar, electronic and electro-optical detection means, as well as anti-ship missiles such as the AM39 Exocet and its replacement, the FMAN. They thus actively participate in the protection of maritime spaces, but also French naval deployments as in the case of the Groupe Aéronaval or the Amphibious Groups, and play a critical role in terms of deterrence by protecting the entry and exit of nuclear ballistic missile submarines in their most vulnerable phases.
Finally, the devices have numerous means of listening and electronic warfare, and have the ability to implement guided air-to-ground munitions, enabling them to support ground forces if necessary, particularly during deployments in Africa.
Airbus DS A320Neo
To respond to the present and future missions of the French maritime patrol, Airbus DS relies on its new A320 Neo medium-haul civil transport aircraft. The transformation of civil transport aircraft for maritime patrol missions is not new.
Thus, in the 60s, the American P3 Orion, which replaced the P2 Neptune, was an evolution of the civilian L-188 Electra, while the British Nimrod was derived from the de Havilland Comet and the Soviet Illyoushin Il-38 Doplhin was based on the Il-18 transport aircraft.
This approach is still widely used today, with the P-8 Poseidon derived from the Boeing 737-800 replacing the P-3 in the US Navy. However, while most previous-generation maritime patrol aircraft, such as the Orion, the Dolphin or the Atlantique, were based on a twin- or quad-turboprop configuration, the new aircraft similar to the A320Neo, such as the American P-8 or the future Russian Tu-214, employ a twin-engine configuration.
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