Boeing Eyes Big Special-Mission 737 Market

Boeing sees a potential market for more than 150 special-mission 737 military aircraft derived from either the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft or Wedgetail airborne early warning aircraft.

The focus is largely on missions currently using C-130, P-3 or 707-based aircraft, which “are getting old,” says Bob Feldmann, Boeing vice president and general manager for surveillance and engagement.

One part of the effort is expanding the customer base for existing products, with the United Arab Emirates, India and Japan seen as potential buyers of a Wedgetail-type aircraft on top of the sales of six of the type to Australia, and four each to South Korea and Turkey. Boeing sees a market for more than 15 of such aircraft. South Korea is to receive its first aircraft this year and Turkey next year.

For the P-8, where the U.S. Navy is committed to 117 aircraft and India eight, Feldmann says Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Italy could lead to sales of more than 75 units. Furthermore, Feldmann says “we know that U.S. Navy and [U.K.] are having some discussions.” The talks right now are government to government.

Another thrust is taking on new missions. Among those is serving as a replacement of the EC-130 Compass Call communications jammer, the WC-135 Constant Phoenix atmospheric sampling aircraft, or the open skies aircraft.

Although the Compass Call mission as currently performed seems an ill fit for a 737, Feldmann argues that “Compass Call of yesterday may not be Compass Call of tomorrow,” suggesting the mission could evolve.

Replacing Navy special-mission P-3s and the U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft are also on the drawing board. The company projects a market for more than 50 such aircraft. “None of those are in a proposal stage,” Feldmann concedes.

Perhaps the nearest-term opportunity is the Airborne Ground Surveillance application, where Boeing wants the 737 to replace the 707-based Joint Stars. The U.S. Air Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives into the mission area. Feldmann argues that the 737 path would provide big savings in terms of logistics support and fuel burn. The market is projected at more than 15 aircraft.


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