Sunday, March 30, 2014

Return of the Viking

The Navy seems to have a clear need for an organic tanker, a long range fixed wing ASW aircraft, and a long range ECM/ESM aircraft.  Unfortunately, the R&D costs to develop a new multi-role support aircraft would be prohibitive in today’s budget climate.  If only there were an already fully developed and flight proven aircraft just sitting waiting to be put into production.  But, alas, we don’t have …  Hey, wait a minute!  Didn’t the S-3 Viking do all that stuff?  Couldn’t we just put it back into production?  Well, yeah, we could but it’s out of date.  We need a modern aircraft.  Yeah, I guess that won’t work because an old design like that just won’t …  well, it wouldn’t be able to, um …  Actually, what’s wrong with the old design?  None of those roles call for stealth.  None of those roles call for supercruise, Mach+ speed.  None of those roles call for 360 degree sensor fused, integrated, networked, anti-gravity, vertical takeoff, invisibility, and whatever other features the Navy would try to wedge into a new design.  Those roles just call for a flying truck.  This is exactly what CNO Greenert has been preaching. 

For those of you who have forgotten, the S-3 Viking functioned as a tanker, ASW, and ESM (remember the ES-3A Shadow?).  Additional roles are also possible.  A commenter once suggested the need for a long range UAV controller aircraft and the Naval Postgraduate School published a thesis in 1994 that examined the use of an S-3 Viking as a carrier based gunship. 

Not only could we quickly put the Viking back into production but my understanding is that the S-3 fleet has been preserved and could be restored to service with relatively little effort.  In fact, S. Korea is supposedly looking into buying several Vikings for ASW work.  Restored Vikings, if they won’t entirely meet the needed numbers, could be used almost immediately while a Viking production line is being reconstituted.

Check the Viking’s range and speed.  They’re more than adequate for the roles.

Range:  2765 nm
Speed:  max 430 kts, cruise 350 kts

Heck, the tanking role, alone, pretty much justifies this.  Right now, we’re using combat aircraft, Hornets, to act as tankers.  Every Hornet that gets used as a tanker is one less combat aircraft from an already shrunken pool of combat aircraft.  It’s not like there’s no room on the carrier.  The airwings have shrunk to the point that they barely occupy half the capacity of the carrier.

This is exactly the type of procurement that the Navy refuses to consider.  Here’s an aircraft that meets a variety of needs, is a proven design with all the bugs worked out, needs little engineering work, and would cost a fraction of a new design but the Navy won’t consider it because it isn’t a shiny, new toy with all the latest and greatest bells and whistles.  The fact that it can perform all the required missions means nothing to the Navy.  They only want leap-ahead technology. 

C’mon, Greenert.  Stop preaching and start practicing.


  1. I can see the US Navy reviving the S-3.

  2. There is no BIG money in reviving an old airplane. The MICC will ALWAYS say a brand new design is better because it puts more money in the pockets of the Admirals and Defense Contractors. Keep suggesting logical ideas, just make sure to watch Don Quioxte.

  3. Absolutely 100% agree about bringing it out of the boneyard and refitting it.

    The only question I have is can they build new ones? Whether it's the f14 or f22 I often hear "we could restart the line". Again, I'm a civilian and my knowledge of manufacturing is limited to the automotive world, but at least there it's not that easy.

    The last Viking was built in '78 according to wiki.

    Imagine if Ford wanted to remake a '78 Lincoln. Little stuff (like the radio) would be easy. We don't need the 15 lbs head unit. We'll put a modern unit in its space. But the bones of the vehicle don't exist anymore, nor due the tools to make them.

    Frame? Have to build the machines to build it again. Springs? Ditto. Body panels? Same. Glass? Same. A transmission/engine that fits? Maybe, maybe we could use something from the Explorer line. But it would likely require so much modifications as to need its own tooling for special parts....

    Pretty soon you are expend in most of the effort/expense you would to build a new car just to make an old one.

    Maybe aircraft are different, but I be surprised.

    Given that we need a truck, it might be better to take the design and use it as a base to create a new, affordable design.

    1. Jim, you raise a good question but you've raised it out of context. By that I mean that your point about re-opening a production line is valid when considered in isolation and with a budget of zero. However, in the context of obtaining a brand new, ultra-modern, super-sophisticated joint support aircraft versus bringing back an already proven and debugged aircraft, the production line reconstitution cost is negligible. For most aircraft, the R&D and the technology are the large costs. The actual production line molds and whatnot are minimal by comparison. Consider the JSF - we've spent enormous sums on the R&D (and aren't done yet!). Further, the production cost is largely an issue of super-sophisticated technology - technically complex composites and coatings, stealth requirements on every piece of the aircraft, super-precise tolerances, etc. Contrast that with the Viking - a few simple sheet metal stamps, wide tolerances, nothing complex or sophisticated by today's standards - far fewer production steps and much simpler ones.

      I never said that there would be no cost to reconstituting a Viking production line. I suggested that the cost would be miniscule compared to the overall cost of a brand new aircraft. I further stated that the Viking could be restarted today versus taking a decade or more to conduct studies and carry out R&D as happens with new designs.

      To return to your analogy of the '78 Lincoln, yes it would cost some money to rebuild the production line but (assuming the plans still existed) the entire R&D would be skipped and the actual production line would have far fewer steps than a modern car, it would be much less complex and therefore quicker, and the resultant Lincoln would be much cheaper than a modern car. That's my point. Does that make sense to you?

      Also, industry tends not to throw away old molds and stamps. They get warehoused. While the tooling for a Lincoln probably no longer exists, I'd bet that lots of Viking tooling does.

    2. The '78 Lincoln has new replacement parts available, and more popular old cars even have new replacement bodies available.

      Though building all new may be cheaper. The Marines program to rebuild the Bell UH-1Y and AH-1Z turned into a new build program. If you are doing major rebuilds of planes, cars, houses its often cheaper to just build new. Once you strip the old down to the frame, fix and modify the frame and then put mostly new parts on it, its usually cheaper to just start from scratch since the frame is not usually that big a % of price.

      If you just want to fix it up enough to get it to work safely then using the old is usually cheaper. Its the difference between the 'beater" of a car which gets you too and from work and the brand new car which has all the new features

      Maybe we should first pull the best S-3's out of the boneyard, fix them enough to get them into some squadrons, while at the same time develop a new version with new sensors, flight controls etc using the old as the model and when they come on line replace the old ones

    3. If anyone thinks that Contractors store the tools and dies forever, they are forgetting they ONLY store what they get paid for. If the Navy is not paying them for delivery or storage then they get scrapped because it would mean a reduction in cost.

      Since the drawings (at least in electronic format) don't cost much to store, I can see a Contractor maybe keeping them becuase it gives thema sole source advantage to restart the line. BUT you are gonna PAY to recreate the tooling and dies.

      Anybody see a budget line for maintenance of old tools and dies? I never had. It is hard enough to get PM shops to get the rights to SW delviered to them, much less bulky things that they have to store.

    4. Industry routinely keeps old molds and tooling for many years after it's done with them. I can't tell you how many old warehouses I've crawled through looking at old, forgotten equipment. The Viking airframes, far from being beyond the possibility of use, have been maintained in storage against that very possibility and may be sold to Korea. I'd be utterly shocked if the manf hasn't kept the tooling.

      Regardless, you get that the cost of new tooling for a simple airframe like the Viking is essentially free in comparison to the costs of a modern new design aircraft?

      Lockheed Martin has net sales of around $48B annually. Do you think the cost of tossing some used equipment that might have some future use, no matter how unlikely, into a corner of a warehouse is an actual financial concern to them?

      A brilliant post like this one and the takeaway you get from it is the storage of tooling? I can lead you to water ...

    5. For something like a limited run of S-3, we don't really need the old manufacturing jig et al, and quite possibly don't even want them.

      For a limited run of S-3s, we'd probably be better off with something like what they did with the Saturn F-1 engine. Digitally map and deconstruct the plane and then build new parts using CNC/3D printing.

      The only thing that we might want to do would be to change the engines on it. Switching over to a modern engine like the GE Passport would allow significantly longer loiter times, additional power, and payload.

    6. ComNavOps;

      I suggest you go work for a Defense Contractor and see just how much focus there is on ROI. There is no ROI on storing things. There is only cost.

      Ask yourself why the Defense Contractor sold most of their buildings and now lease? Becuase they can charge the total amount of the lease to their overhead instead of depreciating it over years.

      I am sorry, this is a good idea and a good post, but good ideas have to be examined in the context of the current reality. The reality is that only new more expensive systems will be supported by the Current Navy, Congressional, and Contractor base.

    7. I'm not *quite* so down hearted. I do think that Industry could deliver a decent 'truck' at a relatively affordable price. Its the process and the design we need to consider. If we ask it to do one thing (in this case be a truck for things) and not ask it to be the SilverBullet then it can be done. We have to accept 'Good enough' over 'Perfect' and 'Fits specified needs' when those needs are clearly defined.

      Here, it seems that we want carrier capabability, reliability, long range/good loiter time, decent but not great speed, cargo carrying capacity,and maintainaiblity. The S3 did those pretty well. We don't need Star Wars technology to fulfill those roles. And it would provide enormous usefullness for the fleet. Other than the carrier capability most of those roles are similar to those needed by commercial cargo planes.

      Boneyard S3's give us an instant boost. New build...

      "A brilliant post like this one and the takeaway you get from it is the storage of tooling? I can lead you to water ..."

      To me that's a key question. Again, the caveats I'm not familiar with the aircraft industry. If they keep their tooling
      around and in good shape, and the machines/power supplies/computers to run them, then great! Crank it up!

      "However, in the context of obtaining a brand new, ultra-modern, super-sophisticated joint support aircraft versus bringing back an already proven and debugged aircraft, the production line reconstitution cost is negligible."

      But that's not what I'm talking about. I might not be all that clear. I'm talking about using modern manufacturing technology, which stresses efficiency and cost management as well as quality, to make an aircraft to S3 specs.

      Having the old tooling is useful, But alot of things have to be in place for it to be cost effective to restart, and time is not its friend.

      10 years ago or so it took like 3500 people to make an F-150. Now it takes 1500 or so, and quality is better. That's a good thing. Again, if the old equipment is in good shape and can be 'turned on', then lets do it by all means!

      But if its really old, or you're missing that key part 'The stamping press motherboard is shot, and we don't have another one...' then it really might be cheaper and better to take the S3 specs to industry and say 'Build it to do what this does. No stealth or magic, just what this does. If you can apply subtle improvements due to increased aerodynamics knowledge and engine technology, use it. But don't break the bank...

      The idea that one poster had about 'printing' parts looks more and more promising as time goes on, and might play a role.

      While I think your post was brilliant, I, with respect, don't think my comment was out of context. If we need these, then we need to think about the logistics of building them.

      The Navy, more than any other branch, is tied by the hip to its industrial base. So those relationships are crucial.

    8. Jim, you're correct that we ought to be able to design a brand new "truck" at a reasonable cost by sticking closely to only the minimal specs. Unfortunately, when has that ever happened? What's the likelihood of that happening? That's the context I'm referring to. That's the point of the post - don't spend billions of dollars creating a new truck when we already have one and could skip right over the design process. If the Navy could, by some miracle, set and stick to minimal specs and accept "good enough" then your comment is perfectly valid.

      Same thing with regard to a new production line. If we can, as you suggest, go to industry and get them to build a "new Viking" for less money, that's great. Of course I'd be on board with that!

      Just because I'm suggesting reconstituting the old production line (if we can't meet our needs by simply reactivating stored Vikings) doesn't mean I insist that we rebuild old metal stamping machines if there are newer, more efficient stamping machines today. Similarly, I wouldn't insist that we put a 1980's radio in the plane just because that's what the originals had.

      What I'm pointing out is that the original airframe design has already been developed and totally debugged. Any new design, even if it stuck to minimal specs, would have to go through the entire flight test program and countless iterations of test/fix just as the JSF is doing now. Using the old design would allow us to completely skip the R&D, design, test, fix portions of aircraft development.

      Look at what the new P-8 has cost in R&D, development, and testing. It's essentially just a truck, albeit a somewhat larger one than a Viking. An already flight proven, debugged airframe is a world cheaper than any new design. Whether we build that with old tooling or new tooling is irrelevant and costs nothing relative to the cost of a new design airframe, no matter how basic.

      Make sense?

    9. Anon: "I am sorry, this is a good idea and a good post, but good ideas have to be examined in the context of the current reality. The reality is that only new more expensive systems will be supported by the Current Navy, Congressional, and Contractor base."

      Well, you are right about that being the current reality. However, you get why I do this blog, right? I'm not just trying to describe the current reality (though I do that many times to point out problems or make a point), I'm trying to suggest improvements. If we all just accepted the status quo, how would anything ever improve? I do this blog for the same reason that people write Proceedings articles - to suggest improvements and try to nudge the Navy in a better direction.

      Your comment is a valid observation. Now take that observation and go a step further. Tell us how to change the reality that you see.

    10. ComNavOps

      This really would be a posting on its own, but here are some ideas to kcick start the discussion.

      1. Stop the revolving door for senior personnel (O6/GS15 and above). Allow them to work for non-profits only that have to fully report their funding sources.
      2. Stop the use of pork in Congress. Members can only vote up or down on program authorization and funding. No direction of where work will be done.
      3. Revamp the Academy system. Make them a one year new officer training institution after completion of a degree at accrediated 4 year universities. The Academies would then teach (for the Navy) basic seamanship, leadership, ship tactics, D/C, with short duration specialized training for sub, surface, and air.
      4. Reinstitute enforcement of ethics in ALL ranks in acquisition. The only Admiral that has been fired, that I know of, was Charlie Hamilton after saying this is not how to build a ship (LCS). Meanwhile Admiral Goddard was babied and now heads a shipyard. See Cdr Slalmander's webpage for an article on integrity in acquistion.
      5. Stop Corporations that have more than 50% of their work from Government (combined Fed, State, and Local) contracts from providing political funding (The SCOTUS has it wrong IMHO).
      6. Prototype and REALISTICALLY test ALL systems before production, then pick the best one. Don't reengineer it, buy the best one. THIS works but we refuse to do it.

      Here is a start, the details would have to be worked out, but you wanted to start a dialog.

  4. For once, I am largely in agreement with ComNavOps. I've championed this issue several times before. A couple of observations:

    Tanking. An S-3 tanker could potentially "pay for itself" by preserving flight hours on the F/A-18. The F-18 is a very inefficient tanker.

    ISR. Same above. We're buring up flight hours on the F/A-18 doing sea surveillance and control (SSC). Use a cheaper aircraft with longer legs.

    ASW. The fleet desperately need a wide-area ASW search-to-kill platform on the carrier. MH-60Rs and P-8As alone won't cut it.

    International. The ROK Navy has expressed interest in acquiring 18 S-3s for use as ASW and ISR ircraft. Seems like a perfect opportunity for cooperation and cost-sharing (restoration, training, maintenance, etc.)



  5. Will, the good, new is I partial agree that we should look at older aircraft design to make up the shortage in the fleet. If the tooling for that airframe still exist, else it will become just another development program as the new tooling will be necessary to go though all the developing of a new aircraft.

    I not sure that the S-3 airframe is the best choice for reintroduction. while they were use for many missions, it was not especially well design to handle most of them. The modified versions were limited by the volume of the airframe, and the of the crew compartment.

    A better choice would be the F404 powered version of the C-2s proposed by Northrup Grumman. This C-2T would have larger payload/range than the S-3 airframe, and if expended could even handle transporting the F-35 engine. And given the large volume of cargo deck, and would be easier to modify to handle current electronics, and crew stations of ASW, ISR, and ESM missions. The jet engines would increase the airspeed of C-2 airframe, allowing it use as a tanker. And finally, the current C-2 COD that are reaching their end of the useful life, so the C-2T aircraft would likely be built anyway.

    Another thing to remember, the C-2 is a current operational aircraft, which means that USN demands that all tooling and manufacturing equipment remains available for spare parts production. And with the E-2D in production, even a building to assembling them in exist.

    Therefore my candidate for the support aircraft position is the C-2T.

    1. According to an AMARC inventory dated 3/14/14, there are 110 S-3 airframes stored at Davis-Monthan AFB. No information as to the condition, most we're inducted between 2004-8, although some go back to 1991. There are 10 S-3A models, 15 ES-3As, 4 US-3As, and 81 S-3Bs. I would think there are enough to equip each carrier with a 4-6 plane squadron (or Det) plus training and maintenance pipeline. Would not hazard a guess as to the cost.

    2. F404-powered C-2? That'd be an odd bird. Seems like a mighty strange choice of engine for a straight-wing, turboprop, low speed COD aircraft.

      Just upgrading to the E-2D's T56-A-427A would be far cheaper.

  6. I'm not a fan of pulling retired aircraft out of the boneyard, especially if we retired the entire type. Putting an entire line back in services is a major, expensive undertaking. The S-3s had their ASW suites removed in the 90's, IIRC. We'd have to come up with a brand new system for them.

    If we really want a carrier ASW aircraft, just modify the base E-2D airframe. It is still in production and in service. The same pilots and maintainers could fly and maintain both aircraft.

    For ESM, I'd rather look forward to an X-47 variant. Stealth and ESM go well together.

    1. If an E-2 based ASW variant makes more sense, I'm all for it. I have a vague recollection that the Navy looked at that option many years ago and decided that the E-2 wasn't suitable. I don't recall the specific reasons and I no longer have any reference document - just a failing and fuzzy memory! Do you recall anything along those lines?

      Regarding unmanned ECM/ESM aircraft, I think you're giving way too much credit to our ability to produce successful autonomous ESM programming.

    2. I am giving us a lot of credit. ;)

      It doesn't have to be autonomous. It just has to have high bandwidth comms.

      There are already discussions underway to develop an ELINT/SIGINT payload for the MQ-4C. If this pans out, it will replace the EP-3E and fill the role of the retired ES-3A.

  7. Before we do any of this, we need to do the wargaming and simulation to determine how best to win the ASW game against present day and near term threats and scenarios.

    This may point us in an entirely different direction from manned, fixed-wing, carrier ASW aircraft.

    Just because they were right for us in the 70s doesn't mean they are right for us now.

    Maybe spending the money perfecting ACTUV or other systems will yield better results.

    1. B.Smitty, evaluating the direction our ASW efforts should go is time well spent and if the results show a different direction is needed I'll be first in line to support it. On the other hand, we're still firmly committed to helo-based ASW and we've just committed to decades of P-8 Poseidon fixed wing ASW so I'm betting that a Viking is still a viable ASW platform. If it isn't, then someone needs to explain the P-8.

    2. Well, the answer could be "Yes" to land-based, long-range, fixed-wing ASW, but still "No" to carrier-based, fixed-wing ASW.

      Maybe just funnel the money you would've spent reactivating and operating the S-3 to more P-8s.

    3. On the inside, I know it can be done....efficiently and economically giving the USN something it desperately needs....especially now.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.