Leuschner said the decision to discontinue the P-3 was made to "unburden" the Navy of P-3 production costs and to shift spending to development of a new aircraft. Moreover, he said, the P-3 has fallen short of its required range because of the added weight of new electronic equipment it carries.
A "long-range" patrol aircraft should be able to hunt submarines 1,600 miles from its base and stay on station for four to five hours, he said. The P-3 can fly out only 1,200 miles from its shore base before beginning its patrol.
Lockheed officials say the Navy never required the P-3 to meet a 1,600-mile patrol radius requirement, and that it was not until recently that such a requirement was imposed.
"The whole reason used to shut the P-3 line down was to bring (other contractors) . . . into the competition," said a Lockheed official who asked not to be otherwise identified. "Why should taxpayers pay more for the product?"
Lockheed has already absorbed one big defeat by Boeing last month when the Navy awarded that company a $1-billion program for new electronic gear for P-3s and LRAACAs. Of course, the future contracts for production of 125 LRAACAs will be much larger, carrying a potential cost of $5 billion to $10 billion.
Lockheed is expected to bid for the LRAACA with an updated P-3, and Boeing and McDonnell Douglas are planning bids with substantially modified versions of one of their passenger jetliners. Such a conversion will require building a bomb bay, and that means modifying the air frame so there is a large pressure bulkhead where one does not now exist.
In the end, whatever design and producer is chosen, the LRAACA will be more expensive than the P-3, Leuschner acknowledged.
Some Naval Reserve officials are worried that the end of the P-3 program will ultimately mean the end of production of land-based anti-submarine patrol aircraft. "How are we going to afford the LRAACA when we can't even afford to buy all the P-3s we need now?" one reserve officer asked.