Monday, February 15, 2016

Upgrade vs. New

You have wonder about the wisdom of constantly building new aircraft and ships at the expense of existing ones.  Here’s an example from the Defense Industry Daily website.

“Lockheed Martin is to perform mid-life upgrades external link to Greece’s P-3 Orion fleet. The US Navy awarded the $141 million modernization contract, which will provide an extension of service life by 15,000 flight hours. Four P-3Bs will undergo the structural mid-life upgrade, while Lockheed Martin also will reactivate one aircraft. Lockheed Martin will also provide for the inclusion of a Greek indigenous mission integration and management system, new avionics, and other ancillary hardware and services. The upgrades are to be completed by July 2019.

Greece will get 5 modernized P-3 Orions for less than the cost of a single P-8 Poseidon.  I think I’d rather have 5 modernized P-3’s than one P-8.  Frankly, the P-8 doesn’t have any capability that’s that much better than a modernized P-3. 

The 15,000 flight hour extension is equivalent to ten years or so, depending on usage rates. 

What capability does the P-8 have that we couldn’t have added to the P-3’s?  We could add new radars, multi-static sonobuoy analysis, or whatever else. 

5 vs 1

Gotta wonder.



  1. I was thinking something like that about Japan's P-1.

  2. Service life extension is not really an option for US Navy. Our P-3Cs are already well maxed out.

    The P-3Bs that Greece operates are decades behind US in terms of rada, acoustics, C3, etc.

    1. Most of cost in MPA is in avionics and sensora. The airframe is really just the "truck".

      I think if you really dug into the systems that Greek's are putting on their Bravos, they would not provide capabilites USN needs.

    2. Service life extension is absolutely an option. The B-52 is a good example of being able to indefinitely extend the service life. We can re-wing, re-fuselage, re-engine, re-anything if we want to.

    3. I'm not suggesting we put Greek systems on our planes but we could put P-8 systems on a P-3.

    4. Not only the air frame hours but the P-3c is 50s technology for aircraft control. The Orion had marginal stability at full loads and the pilots could feen it in the controls when someone went to the rear to use the toilet! A lot of the flight crews energy was just to keep it flying and stable whereas the 737 is largely hands off.
      The only real drawback is the lack of a MAD for the P-8, but just as the marines used the KC-130 harvest Hawk with some serious air to ground hardware the Navy could do the same with its P-8s for the very light maritime craft used by militias or pirates.
      As Anon said the UN navy pushed it Orions hard, most were beyond 15,000 hours for a plane designed for 7500. Some have been part re-winged for 5000 hours to maintain the fleet till the P-8 takes over completely.
      For greece an extra hours make sense as they have a single type fleet that work mainly in nearby littoral waters.

  3. Another major concern was the maintenance required for the engines and propellers. The MMH per FH (maintenance man hour per flight hour) for the propulsion system was through the roof. One of the selling points of the P8 was the 737 engine and the universal availability of parts.
    Any cost comparison has to figure in availability and the maintenance/manpower costs otherwise one could even make LCS look good :-)

    1. We could re-engine the P-3 for a lot less money than a new P-8. That was the point of the post. Five modernized aircraft versus one new one? It's got to at least make you stop and think hard about the P-8 program and the concept of upgrades, in general.

    2. No offense, but that is a fairly uninformed statement.

      First off: where is the manufacturing base? LM shut down P-3 line over two decades ago. Many if not all of the engineers have probably moved on to the jet industry.

      Second: comparing service life extension for a B-52 and P-3 is apples and llamas. B-52s fly very high and in stable profile. ASW aircraft fly low and pull a lot of Gs.

      New engines alone wouldn't be enough. Look at what happened when they did a wing fatigue inspection on the P-3 force in 2003. Most of the force was grounded. Several were stricken.

      Lastly: avionics on P-3 and P-8 are actually identical. A lot of the P-3 AIP technology was ported directly over to P-8A.

      P-8A was about getting a dependable, affordable to operate truck. A 737 derivative is much cheaper/easier to maintain than a turboprop.

      I am a big fan of the P-3, but I don't think your proposed "modernization" would be anywhere near cost effective. Not for the amount of aircraft and flight hours that the Navy plans to fly.

    3. If you want a discussion, please keep your comments polite and respectful. Argue the points, not the person.

    4. Uninformed is not derogatory. And I have made points which you seem to be ignoring.

    5. New engines for the P-3 would be the least of the problems.

      We spent $1.3 billion dollars in the mid 2000s just fixing P-3 wing cracks. Are you still certain that "service life is a purely arbitrary concept"?

  4. I will like to argue that a lot of the Cost involved are actually the cost of Capitalism. Look at wikipedia for a breakdown on the 737 models over the years. From 32million to 102million!

    The western world's defense industry has given in to corporate profits above affordability, whereas a similar system in China might be 1/3 the cost.

    Its going to take a World War or complete financial collapse to force a rethink on the prices.

    1. You're both right and wrong. The number of hours to make two identical planes, one in the US and one in China, is identical (not strictly true due to manufacturing differences, degree of automation, etc. but we'll call it the same to illustrate the point). The "cost" differs. The "cost" is just an arbitrary number determined from artificial benchmarks as well as value determined by supply and demand. China could, if it wished, call the cost 1 dollar. The point is that the effort (man-hours) is identical but the arbitrary cost is different. The Chinese government subsidizes a very large portion of their defense industry so the "cost" is obscured and trying to compare costs in the two countries is a pointless endeavor.

      All that said, you're right that the US has decided to subsidize its defense industry indirectly in the form of large contracts that can't be strictly justified.

    2. No one in the commercial realm is paying 100mil for a 737! Real sales prices generally half or LESS than that. A lot of the cost in the P8 is in all the additional mission specific equipment.

  5. Is that 15,000 flight hours per plane or 15,000 flight hours over the 5 planes?

    The cost of manufacturing 1 P-8 is $171,000,000 and the P-8 is engineered to last 25,000 flight hours. This means the P-8 cost is $6,840 per flight hour.

    1. As I read it, and it seemed pretty clear, that's per aircraft.

    2. I read it as 15000 total for all planes, and then realized it could be per plane later.

    3. For example, it looks like the 141 Million dollars is a total for all the planes. I figured they were not mixing and matching total vs per aircraft numbers.

    4. Nope - Simply dividing to fly-away purchase price by the number for years expected to fly does not provide you with the cost per flight hour (CPFH). You need to factor in cost of fuel, repairs and paying the crew salary to get the true CPFH.

  6. While i get the LCS vs Perry argument i dont know that it necessarily holds true here.
    There are some fundamental war fighting differences that you're glossing over here. I don't think you could compare the effectiveness of a P3 vs a P8, therefore your pure numbers comparison becomes largely irrelevant.

    Smallest stupidest example that occurs to me, one of the pilots interview mentioned the ability of a P8 to launch ASW weapons from its patrol altitude, meaning a war shot can happen at any time after detection. P3, upon a vectac being given to him, would need to descend to some 3/5000 feet (dont remember exactly) in order to launch his weapon, that took time, then spend a lot of time/fuel climbing back up to operational altitude.
    This was one small example sited as a vast operational difference between the craft.

    Yes, for the price of one modern m1-a2 abrahams you could build and refurbish 5 M-60's. Personally i know which one i'd rather have fighting on my side.

    1. If you carefully read the post, you noted that I didn't flat out state that the modernized P-3 was the better route. I did strongly suggest that it might be and I absolutely suggested that we need to look more closely at upgrades versus automatically leaping into new builds.

      Your example fails (I think?) to compare an upgraded, modernized P-3 with a P-8. I think you're comparing a legacy P-3 with a P-8. Of course, that comparison would come up short. I'll repeat the question I posed in the post: what capability does a P-8 have that is so much greater than a MODERNIZED P-3 that it justifies bypassing a 5:1 ratio?

      To your second example about tanks, I'm not a ground combat expert so I don't know the differences but I suspect that if we added the 120 mm gun and fire control system from the M1 plus some armor upgrades and electronics that 5 older tanks might be a better deal than one M1. As I said, not my area of expertise.

      There does come a point where modernization just won't get you enough. Is the P-3/8 that point? We should at least ask the question given the cost differential - that's the point of the post.

    2. I think this conversation is badly lacking in specificity and context.

      Reading the contract, the $141 million appears to be purely for structural sustainment. Not really modernization as much as safety of flight and airworthiness.

      Most of the value (and cost) in a maritime patrol aircraft are in the mission systems. Sensors and C3. It doesn't read like the Greeks are buying any improvements of those sorts.

      Greek aircraft are P-3Bs which haven't been modernized since the late '90s. No ISAR radar, no modern acoustic processor, no modern EO/IR, no digital C3 suite, etc.

      Bravos are probably good enough for the Greek Navy's roles (coastal patrol, EEZ protection), but probably would be of little use to the ASW centric US Navy. Bringing them up to USN standards would not be cheap.

    3. OK
      Fair point.
      I dont know what you're proposing in that instance. I dont know to what level of sophistication (and i suspect neither do you) you'd need to bring a P3 up to to even have this discussion.
      The small example i mentioned, altitude of drop, i dont know if its possible or how much it may cost to bring the P3 up to that ability. That's but one small example, of lots.
      The other aspect is, P8 will have a service life, that can, and almost certainly will be, extended numerous times, like your B52's that you mentioned, or like even the P3's themselves, aircraft that are already half a century old, so you're adding another matrices to the cost benefit ratio.
      If you do manage a life extension that works, on 50 year old airframes, its for sure going to be the very last time they do them, you may end up putting in capabilities which will be currentish for the next 40 years into bodies that will die in the next 10, despite whatever renewal program is thrown at them.

      Im trying to say, that no one built a P3 in 1959 expecting the type to still be in service in 2016. So, i'll wager that the point of delay was reached, exceeded, and trampled to death before DOD finally pulled the trigger on the replacement program.

      So yes, upgrades were considered over replacement, and several times. My 2 cents.

    4. "Im trying to say, that no one built a P3 in 1959 expecting the type to still be in service in 2016."

      I doubt anyone built the B-52 in 1952 expecting the type to still be in service in 2016 and with no clear cut end of service in sight, yet!

      You're still missing the point. The point is not whether a single modernized P-3 is better than a single P-8. It's not. The question is whether FIVE P-3s that can perform 80%-90% of what a P-8 can do provide an overall gain compared to a single P-8.

      As a general statement, I'd rather have 5 of anything than 1, assuming the capabilities are reasonably close. We forget that these things are for war. What happens in war? Attrition! The P-8 is no more survivable than a P-3. I'd rather have 5 P-3s that can absorb some attrition than 1 P-8 where I lose my entire capability if I lose the P-8 (I'm speaking on a relative basis. I know we have more than one P-8). Also, in war, the coverage area provided by 5 modernized P-3s is 5 times greater than a single P-8. That's a priceless advantage!

      "If you do manage a life extension that works, on 50 year old airframes, its for sure going to be the very last time they do them ..."

      I wonder how many times someone has thought that about the B-52?

    5. "I think this conversation is badly lacking in specificity and context."

      You seem to be under the impression that I'm suggesting that the US acquire Greek P-3s. I'm not. I'm suggesting that the concept of upgrading in order to obtain multiple aircraft (5 in the Greek example) for 1 new one should be seriously considered.

      I suspect we could add whatever radar or other upgrades we need to make the P-3 a near-P-8 for far less than a new P-8.

    6. It would be worth considering if there was any validity. But as I pointed out, you are comparing apples and oranges.

    7. I'd also point out that the SWAP-C marginaa on P-3 maxed out in mid-90s. It's not just a matter of slapping in a new radar or acoustic processor. There is zero margin for growth.

      And as others have pointed out, any comparison needs to consider total ownership coat - not just acquisition.

      The P-8A airframe is highly common with the 737. There is a huge parts and maintenance base. Not so much with the P-3.

      The P-3 is a great plane, but the world has largely moved on from turboprops. Why pay the premium to maintain a unique supply and maintenance base?

  7. CNO,
    I almost always agree with you, but in this case, I'm missing something.
    You have a point that we should consider the cost/benefit, or best vs good enough for procurement. However, you're using the Greek P3 modification vs USN P8 to derive the 5:1 number. In reality as many posters point out is that number, in reality, is much lower since it doesn't include new power plants or the USN required sensors. It appears as if it essentially covers the needed airframe upgrades.
    If I'm right, then the number becomes lower. At what point does the number begin to make sense? Obviously, 1:1 becomes an easier discussion; but what about 2.5:1, or 2:1?
    During my requisite OPNAV tour, I saw a decision to rework 20 year old support ships at, with my best recollection, of approximately 80% the cost of new ship. The new ship came with double-hulls, efficiencies and the start of a 20+ year life-span. It reminded me of my parents trying to put monthly repairs into two older cars rather than buying one new car with better technology, efficiencies and no unplanned repairs. But, it doesn't work if you NEED two cars or can't afford the monthly payment while just hoping the next repair bill doesn't put everything out of reach.
    You have a valid point; one worth considering, but as with everything, I think it is the total cost, ie, manpower, new efficiencies, unplanned repairs, start of new life cycle, etc that needs to be considered as well as comparing apples to as close to apples as you can get!!
    Thanks for another thought provoking post,

    1. You've correctly grasped the point. Rather than knee-jerk, automatically leaping into new, and inevitably overcost, programs, we should be at least asking ourselves if much cheaper upgrades that gain us multiples:one might be a better approach. Is the P-3/8 the one where we should have done this? I can't say for sure but the question should be asked.

      Bear in mind that our P-3s are, hopefully, better maintained than the Greek ones. Therefore, a larger portion of the money might be able to be spent directly on capability upgrades as opposed to airframe upgrades. Or maybe not.

      Would it really cost that much to put a new radar on a P-3? The rest of the sub hunting equipment (sonobuoys and processors) is likely about the same or easily upgraded. I just seems likely to me that we could get multiple modernized P-3s for the cost of a single P-8. How many P-3s? Who knows. The Greek example suggested a 5:1 ratio. What could we get? Who knows. At what point is it worth it? Again, who knows. It's just a question that ought to be asked rather than leaping into new programs all the time. Remember, every time we enter a new program we wind up with fewer of the ship or aircraft than those we're replacing. Taken to its logical conclusion, we're going to eventually wind up with one airplane and one ship in our entire military!

    2. I look at it this way... The price we are paying for the P8 is apparently ~141 million. New build 737s regularly roll off the production line at a purchase cost of less than $50 million (and likely less than $40 million). While there are some airframe modifications for the P8 vs 737, they really can't be accounting for any more than $10 mil. That means that we are looking at between 81-91 million for the equipment outfit for the P8 which seems somewhat in reasonable as a ballpark.

      Therefore it is likely that an upgrade P3 would cost in the 80-90 million ballpark for equipment. Add in the fact that the P3 fleet likely needs some significant overhauls as well, and you are at say 90-100 million. So for ~40-50 million you are getting new frames with well understood maintenance, an absolutely massive supporting industrial base (thousands upon thousands of active planes and roughly 500+ additional planes per year), significantly less airframe risk, much reduced maintenance costs.

      And we weren't the only country to come to the same conclusion, the Japanese decided new build was the way to go as well (though they designed practically a brand new plane for it).

      As far as the equipment cost estimates, it's not just a new radar. It's all new electronics, comm equipment, etc. I would question if the P3 can even supply enough power for all the new equipment.

    3. "The price we are paying for the P8 is apparently ~141 million."

      The price in the budget doc referenced in the previous post is $253M per aircraft. Those are actual costs. Check the cost and then repeat your analysis.

    4. all it does is inflate the equipment cost portion and makes upgrading the P3 look even worse. you would be looking at ~203M per aircraft for the upgrade vs 253M new...

    5. CNO. I think you are attempting to construct an argument with facts and figures you don't understand.

      I will tell you that a P-3 service life extension (what you term "modify") was considered in the MMA Analysis of Alternatives.

      It was a horrible business case. Literally every other option considered was more cost-effective. Here are the reasons:

      1. There is zero service life left in the USN airframes. Extending would basically require a complete remanufacture. It's not just the engines. The wings were showing severe signs of fatigue.

      2. There is practically no SWAP-C margins to add new equipment in the P-3C. The back of the a/c is literally full. The electrical and cooling systems were maxed. It is also way over design weight.

      3. No one really maintains P-3 parts other than for USN. That's a unique and very expensive proposition. In contrast, there are 1,000s of 737s to draw from.

      4. Crew size. We had two flight engineers and an in-flight tech. We no longer need those positions on the modern P-8.

      5. Similarly, the man hours to maintain a P-3 is a bear. An example is the T-56 engine. It was state of the art in 1962. Very conplex and cumbersome to repair. No one has really done much to improve it because the airlines moved on to jets 50 yrs ago!

      I love the P-3, but operating antiquated equipment can get really expensive. Transitioning to a 737-derivative P-8 was arguably the smartest move Navy has made in decades.

    6. "you would be looking at ~203M per aircraft for the upgrade vs 253M new..."

      As you know, the cost of a new aircraft, today, includes many "costs" and cost factors not directly related to the equipment being fabricated. The costs of setting up production lines, building jigs and forms, R&D, etc. all go into new production costs. While some of that might be expected to appear in upgrade costs, it would only be a fraction. After all, we're not building a new aircraft - we're just upgrading a few select pieces of equipment.

      You also seem to think we'll be rebuilding P-3s into exact copies of P-8s. That's not even remotely what an upgrade would do. The goal is to attain 80-90% of a P-8s capabilities through a few simple upgrades, not create an exact copy.

      I would guess a new radar but I'm not even sure about that. What's wrong with the existing APS-115/137? My guess is that it's adequate.

      Some new avionics but those are cheap.

      New engines?

      The basic ASW fit is probably largely the same as the P-8. Sonobuoys and consoles to analyze the data.

      I just don't see any large upgrade costs to get an 80-90% match and we ought to be able to get several:1.

    7. "There is zero service life left in the USN airframes."

      It is statements like this that cast doubt on your other points. Airframes have infinite life. It's just a matter of wanting to. Zero service life is what supporters of a new platform say about the old one to justify their new program. If we want to, we can re-wing, re-engine, re-fuselage, re-electrical, re-anything. Consider the "infinite" extensions of the B-52. Consider the A-10 upgrades when they were supposedly at the end of their service life. Consider the legacy F-18 reworks currently being done.

      Service life is a purely arbitrary concept.

      Analysis of alternatives studies produce whatever results the authors want. If you've worked with them then you know you can produce any desired result by setting the conditions, requirements, and assumptions the right way to get the result you want. As a simplistic example, if you prioritize ease of maintenance, you'll conclude a new construction is the way to go. If you prioritize minimal expenditure, you'll conclude upgrades are the way to go. And so on.

      You're also arguing rather than grasping the larger point and its implications. The larger point is that we should be looking at upgrades rather than always looking to new construction. The implication of this is that we can greatly increase our overall numbers for a particular function. For example, to stick with the P-3/8, we could have opted to start new construction and do upgrades. For the cost of, say, 10% of the new construction, we could have many modernized P-3s supplementing the P-8s and, therefore, a much larger overall air fleet. On a closely related note, you're aware that we're only planning on building around 100 P-8s, if I recall correctly, to replace the several hundred P-3s (not all for the US, of course). Thus, any way we can keep fleet numbers up is worthy of serious consideration.

    8. Flying a mixed fleet of P-3 and P-8 would be a very bad idea. It is very expensive to maintain two separate maintenance and training lines for one mission. Ask the LCS folks.

      I also don't think you get the concept of life cycle cost. Lifecycle cost includes research and development (R&D), military construction, acquisition, and operations and support (O&S).

      Simply comparing acquisition costs of two systems as you have attempted to do with P-3C and P-8A leads to an answer that is overly simplistic and downright misleading.

      According to OSD(CAPE) Cost Estimation Guide, the cost breakdown for typical fixed wing a/c:

      - R&D: 7%
      - Procurement: 30%
      - O&S: 63%

      You're concerned about the procurement price, which is less than 1/3 of the total cost. Nearly 2/3 of the cost is in operating and supporting the aircraft over its lifetime.

      And that's where the P-8A clearly won out over any options with the P-3C. In the thirty year (more like 50 if same as P-3C!) the P-8A is much less expensive to maintain.

    9. I am only considering "acquisition" costs for the sake of simplicity and brevity. I've got to fit my entire theme into the handful of paragraphs that comprise a post!

      I wrote acquisition as "acquisition" because it's misleading. For new P-8s, acquisition is accurate. For P-3 upgrades, the aircraft is already acquired and long since paid for. There is no acquisition cost. They're free from that standpoint. There is, of course, the cost of upgrade equipment and installation. Hence, my use of the qualified term "acquisition".

      A direct cost comparison is only a part of the story and a small and misleading one at that. While a P-3 has higher operating costs, it also has no acquisition cost and no R&D. Also, analogous to opportunity costs, every P-8 that we don't buy by upgrading a P-3 acts as a "credit" towards the operating cost of the P-3. Thus, the total expenditure is probably less. I don't have data so I can't say for sure. If you really want to do a cost comparison, you have to factor in the "savings" by not buying P-8s.

      Finally, the military is not a business though many aspects of a business are evident. Thus, business cases may not make strategic/tactical sense. Even if a P-3 was flat out the wrong approach from a business perspective, the resulting 5:1 (or whatever ratio) gain in coverage area and number of airframes might well be worth the greater cost. Today's military often gets too caught up in the business aspects and fail to consider combat needs. Minimal manning is an example of a great business case that will prove disastrous in combat due to lack of watchstanders, casualty replacements, and damage control.

    10. Can you define what you mean by modifications? Are you talking airframe sustainment? Sensors? Weapons? Comms? All of the above?

      If you are going to buy 'upgrade equipment', that is by definition an acquisition cost. Unless someone is giving away ISAR radars and acoustic processors. And as others have pointed out, mission systems account for the bulk of P-3/P-8 cost. The truck is relatively cheap.

      There is *ALWAYS* R&D cost since that includes test and evaluation. Even poring the existing P-3C acoustic processor onto the P-8A cost money. The reverse would be true as well.

      Heck, we're still paying R&D to put capabilities on P-3 now. There is always a cost in adding capability. We like our boxes to be safe (Developmental Test) and actually work (Operational Test).

      The 5:1 ratio only makes sense if your 5 aircraft work when you want them to and are not falling out of the sky. As I pointed out, the P-3C was/is on its last legs. Physics and time are not kind to naval aircraft.

      Lastly, you disparage AoAs. I've worked on several. Some good and some frustrating. But none have been rigged. So your comment is insulting to professional analysts like myself.

      Can you site one specific example by name of an AoA which "produced the results the authors wanted?" If so - when did you read it?

    11. I will add that as someone who flew in the mighty P-3 for about four years and saw:
      - Engines fail (2x);
      - Onboard electrical fire;
      - Loss of pressurization;
      - HF wire falls off aircraft;
      - Multiple incidents of PFOA (Parts Falling Off the Aircraft)

      Service life stops being an arbitrary concept right around the time your overage, worn out aircraft tries to hurt or kill you.

    12. But we aren't looking at a new airframe. We are looking at a 737 of which THOUSANDS have been made. The jigs, buildings, forms, R&D, etc are basically minimal, and well understood. In fact, the majority of the manufacturing is completely unchanged and done by the same people, in the same buildings, using the same equipment as any other 737. The only thing added was an additional assembly line to comply with the security requirements. The cost for that additional assembly line is pretty minimal.

      In contrast, the flight and fatigue issue on the P3s is to the point where they would of basically needed to be re-manufactured from scratch and we don't have any of the supporting manufacturing equipment for a plane that was last made ~30 years ago. The only way that the upgrade of a P3 wouldn't cost a fortune is if you basically did nothing for an upgrade. The engines aren't made any more and any newer engines would require significant engineering work to fit. The radar is also ancient at this time as is the supporting equipment and not made anymore. The avionics are literally 1950s vintage and would require a complete engineering force to upgrade. And lets not forget that we had already reached every measure of capacity with the P3s. The plane was stuffed to the gills, it was overweight, it was at max power and cooling. In short, we had upgraded the P3 as much as the frame could possibly take. If the P3 was still in production and had margins, I would agree with you CNOPs, but it isn't and it doesn't it. That the fleet is still flying at all is basically a miracle!

    13. As far as the B-52s, that really is a completely different case. The attributes that make the B-52s work aren't present in any commercial alternatives(B52 is a low volume, high weight airplane which aren't commercially viable traits). So we have two options with the B52s, either rebuild them or design an entirely new plane. Rebuilding them has always been the cheaper better option because any new plane for the same role will be very very similar. In addition, the B52 fleet has a profile that is much easier to keep going: minimal T/L cycles, relatively low flight hours. It should be pointed out that many B52 upgrades have been cancelled because the costs were prohibitively expensive included at least 2 re-engine projects.

      And P-3s aren't free as far as acquisition costs because they basically need to be rebuilt from the ground up to continue flying at this point.

      A-10s were never at the end of their service lives, that's just USAF propaganda.

      As far as fleet size, the US has been operating with a total fleet of P3s of 156 and they are scheduled to be replaced with a fleet of 122 P8s. Considering the considerable lower maintenance required for the P8s, the numbers of available active aircraft should be as high if not higher (737s were designed for maintenance cycles and times for commercial aviation and thus most maintenance can be done in a fraction of the time that even a new build P3 would require!). In addition, the lines and equipment to build new P8s will be active for at least a couple more decades!

    14. Anon, you're clearly looking for an argument rather than a discussion of the main premise of the post. I do not engage in arguments for the sake of arguing. There are plenty of other blogs where that kind of participation is encouraged. You might be happier with one of them. I'm going to summarize this "discussion" for the sake of other readers.

      It seems odd that of all the old, worn out aircraft (B-52, A-10, F-18C/D, etc.), many of which have been used and stressed much harder than the P-3, only the P-3 seems somehow, in your mind, to be unable to be modernized. The Greeks, starting with P-3s that seem to be in much worse shape to begin with, seem able to upgrade the aircraft to add 15,000 flight hours to each. I wonder how they can do it when we can't, according to you? So, clearly we can.

      The list of flight failures you offer are almost trivial items to rectify in an upgrade.

      I'm not claiming to have a detailed, engineering level knowledge of the needed upgrades. The heart of an upgrade sounds like it would be new engines (a couple million dollars each?), new power/electrical (a million or so?), and maybe a new radar (a few million?). The ASW fit is probably pretty much good as is. The upgrades ought to allow a reduction in crew size, as with the P-8.

      Remember, we're not trying to turn the P-3 into a P-8. We're only trying to get 80-90% of the capability for a fraction of the cost of new P-8s.

      The premise of the post is that we should be looking at upgrades rather than always leaping into new construction. For example, the Navy is attempting to retire 11 Aegis cruisers, BEFORE THEIR SERVICE LIFE IS EVEN UP, in favor of new Burke Flt IIIs that will cost around $3B each. You can do a LOT of upgrades for that kind of money. The P-3 may or may not be the perfect candidate for the upgrade over new option. The premise of the post is that we should at least be asking the question especially since we've proven that "infinite" upgrades are quite feasible and the Greeks have proven that the P-3 upgrade, specifically, is doable.

      This is my last word on the subject. I've made my point and you're free to agree or disagree.

    15. I would take caution with the belief that the P-3 upgrade is doable. First, we don't know if it will work, we don't know if it will be anywhere close to budget, nor do we know what operational cadence will be required.

      As for P-3s being more decrepit than other planes, P-3s are used every day, peace or war. All the other planes you listed have significantly reduced operational cadence when no involved in conflicts.

      As far as upgrade costs, new engines will almost assuredly required completely new avionics as well, etc. I think you costs are way too low.

      And IMPORTANT: The Greek P3s that are being upgraded are NOT P-3Cs, they are P-3Bs. Its likely that the cost of their upgrade is largely just redoing the existing deteriorated structures (fuse and wings) and it is likely that the *upgraded* Greek P-3s will behind the existing US P-3Cs capability wise. That's ~28 million per plane just to keep them flying for another 15000 hours without even bringing them up to P-3C level!

      And I fully understand and support your point about the Aegis cruisers but these aren't Aegis cruisers with significant designed service life. These are planes that are upwards of 60 years old that are well beyond their designed service lives and are also beyond their capability to be upgraded both from a weight and a space standpoint. There is a reason that they went with a larger plane that can carry a heavier load.

    16. CNO. I'm not trying to be argumentative. I'm trying to present you with actual facts and data so you can rethink your premise. I have actually flew and studied these aircraft.

      The Greek P-3Bs are not in worse shape than USN aircraft. They bought old, low-time Bravos that we discarded. Greece also does not put nearly the annual hours on their fleet that we do.

      What specific problem do you think you are trying to fix with "P-3 modifications"? Mission system? Avionics? Airframe? Reliability?

      In terms of ASW mission gear, the P-8A and P-3 AIP are comparable. Same radar. Similar acoustic processors. Similar comms suite. The P-3 has a MAD (that generally doesn't work). The P-8 has way better sensor control and display and can carry a lot more buoys (120 vs. 84)

      I think you're talking about sustaining P-3 airframe so that you can actually keep flying it. If so - that's where your argument falls apart.

      A new T-56-A14 turboprop costs about $1.5 million - which means $6 million per P-3C. Plus some spares. And that's probably the cheapest aspect of the sustainment.

      The three main hurdles I see in trying to sustain the P-3 past 2020 from an airframe perspective:

      1. An outdated electrical system. Rewiring an electrical system that was designed in the 1960s will be tens of millions of dollars per A/C.

      2. Lack of weight margins. These aircraft are already jammed full of equipment. An AIP aircraft is taking off heavy every time. There is no physical room for payload growth (sensors, more buoys weapons, communications boxes, etc).

      3. Structural fatigue. You can insist this is not real. Common sense says otherwise. The red stripe in '07 grounded 39 aircraft for upwards of two years because of cracks in wing spars.

      If we wanted to keep P-3s around for any amount of time, we would've been better off buying new P-3s. That would not be cheap, considering the factory line shut down in 1997.

    17. CNO. Comparing TICO and P-3 is apples and oranges. Most P-3Cs reached their expended end of service life in 2000.

      We're not talking about early retirement. We're talking about an aircraft that should've been retired and replaced over 15 years ago.

  8. If the military was at the forefront of 3 printing they could probably build spare aircraft from copying spare parts

  9. The Sea Hercules patrol aircraft may be another option according to Lockheed..
    However the Navy wants the P8.

  10. If you want to understand the impacts of service life extension, I'd reading this NPS thesis. Not that it has not been cheap to date to keep the Orion flying past service life. It won't get cheaper.

    "P-3 wing sustainment to date cost 1.3 billion FY13 dollars."

    "From 2007 to 2012, [P-3] maintenance and continuous improvements cost 4.7 and 2.1 billion FY13 dollars, respectively.

    "These expenditures could buy a fleet of 43 P-8 Poseidon well ahead of the current 2019 IOC."

  11. "The upgrades ought to allow a reduction in crew size, as with the P-8."

    How are you going to accomplish an aircrew reduction via these modifications? Which specific aircrew positions do you hope to eliminate? The FEs? The IFTs?

    Can you tell me what are the specific aircrew positions (titles/functions) are on the P-3 and the P-8?

    If you want to make an effective case, the devil in the details. You can't just thrown out vague concepts such as "modification" and get angry when people with actual experience ask for details.

    1. CNO. Every person of a flight crew serves a role. The reduction in manning from 11 (P-3) to 9 (P-8) is directly attributable to removing two assigned flight engineers (FEs).

      On the P-3, the FEs sit in the cockpit and control the four highly complex turboprop engines and other aircraft systems. FEs are vital in P-3, particularly when operating at low altitude.

      FEs are not required in the P-8. Thanks to simplicity and reliability of turbofan engines, commercial airliners haven't had FEs since the 1980s. Boeing 707 and early 767s were the last to have them. 737s never had them.

      What I am saying is that casual blanket statements like you have made don't hold up under scrutiny. The devil is in the details.

      Could we 'engineer' out the FE position from a "modified" P-3 and save manpower? Possibly. But it probably won't be cheap or quick. No one has even been looking at this problem. Even the Air Force uses FEs in their C-130s.

  12. CNO wrote. "On a closely related note, you're aware that we're only planning on building around 100 P-8s, if I recall correctly, to replace the several hundred P-3s (not all for the US, of course). Thus, any way we can keep fleet numbers up is worthy of serious consideration."

    Other countries P-3s don't count. There haven't been several US Navy P-3s since the late 1980s.

    When I left Fleet in mid-2000s there were about 150-ish P-3s in inventory. About 1/2 of which were probably flyable on any given day.

    The Navy is replacing 140-150 P-3Cs with 117 P-8As. Maybe more. So the numbers gap is not as bad as you say.


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